With the goal of advancing regenerative medicine therapies, a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has received a 5-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide training in biomechanical engineering principles and biology to students pursuing a doctoral degree in bioengineering.
“Training in Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine” (BiRM) is funded through the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s T32 grant program. The program director and principal investigator is McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Savio L-Y. Woo, PhD, DSc, DEng, Distinguished University Professor of Bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and the founder and director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC) at Pitt. He is joined by McGowan Institute affiliated faculty members and co-investigators, James Antaki, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and David Vorp, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at the Swanson School.
According to Drs. Woo, Antaki, and Vorp, regenerative medicine uses methods including tissue engineering, cellular therapies, biosurgery, and artificial and biohybrid organ devices to address tissue/organ insufficiency. Yet despite several early successes, bioengineers have faced challenges in repairing or replacing tissues that serve a predominantly biomechanical function. The Pitt-CMU program aims to bridge that gap by training students in both biomechanical engineering principles and biology.
“Regenerative medicine is at a critical juncture in its evolution, and Pitt and CMU are uniquely positioned to create an interdisciplinary program to benefit our graduate students,” Dr. Woo said. “Since the BiRM program is not central to any one department, it provides students with fundamental knowledge and problem-solving skills as well as inter-departmental didactic and research experiences, and specialized training in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship.”
To develop these diverse skills, BiRM incorporates faculty from Pitt’s departments of Bioengineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science in the Swanson School of Engineering; Carnegie Mellon’s departments of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering; and Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences, including the School of Dental Medicine, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, and Division of Cardiology. BiRM faculty members also have appointments in the joint Pitt-CMU Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Dr. Woo noted that during BiRM’s first two cohorts, 30 students gained a solid foundation for productive and independent careers in academia, industry, and medicine spanning a wide range of physiological systems including orthopedics, vascular surgery, dentistry, urology, and others. Over the next 5 years, the Pitt-CMU partnership seeks to sponsor six pre-doctoral fellowships per year corresponding to approximately 14 additional fellowships over the course of the program, as well as to allow further development of the curriculum and increase the emphasis on clinical translation of biomechanics and regenerative medicine research.