Reducing infection post-surgery, regenerating bone, enhancing a surgeon’s delicate touch, and effectively treating gum disease are the first projects to receive funding from the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program (Coulter Program) at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. The projects were selected after a 9-month application and review process and received $340,000 in total funding. The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty members (in alphabetical order) involved in these projects include:
- Prashant Kumta, PhD, Edward R. Weidlein Chair and Professor of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh
- Steven R. Little, PhD, Chair of the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Associate Professor, and Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow of the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering
- Joel S. Schuman, MD, PhD, Eye and Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh, Director of the UPMC Eye Center, and Interim Director, the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration
- David Schwartzman, MD, Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
- Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD, Associate Professor of Oral Biology and Costello Bernard, Associate Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Pittsburgh
- Yadong Wang, PhD, Associate Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh
Created through a $3.54 million grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation in fall 2011, the 5-year Coulter Program will fund translational research to develop new technologies to address unmet clinical needs. The award from the Coulter Foundation – 1 of only 6 nationwide – is supplemented by $1.5 million in matching funds from the University’s School of Medicine, the Swanson School of Engineering, and the Office of Technology Management.
“Pittsburgh is at the leading edge of medical technologies, thanks to the already exceptionally strong foundation of higher education and healthcare,” explained Pratap S. Khanwilkar, PhD, MBA, Coulter Program Director and Professor of Bioengineering at the Swanson School. “We’re not talking about funding theoretical research but rather dynamic new technologies that are ready to move from the lab to the operating room, patient bedside, or doctor’s office.”
“What’s exciting about these first projects is the interdisciplinary approach to medical innovation, with co-principal investigators from different engineering and clinical backgrounds,” noted Harvey S. Borovetz, PhD, Principal Investigator of the Coulter Program, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Bioengineering, Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, the Robert L. Hardesty Professor in the Department of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Deputy Director of Artificial Organs and Medical Devices, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “We carefully explored the commercialization potential of each project and will provide project management throughout to facilitate additional funding, intellectual property licensing, and spin-off development.”
The first four projects range from tactile enhancements for surgeons to improving the body’s own immune and repair systems. The 2012 funded projects include:
Resorbable Calcium Phosphate Putty (ReCaPP®) for Bone Regeneration
Bioengineering Co-PI: Prashant Kumta, PhD
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI: Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD
Summary: Addressing a growing need for effective bone regeneration therapy, ReCaPP is a calcium phosphate putty used as bone filler in craniofacial surgery and dental implants. What’s fascinating about ReCaPP is that it stimulates bone growth and is later reabsorbed by the body. According to the team, these medical needs represent a potential $10 billion market. The project is leveraging $5 million Department of Defense funding, plus $1.2 million from the National Institute of Health, and $800,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development.
Hand-Held Force Magnifier: Microsurgical Instruments that Magnify the Sense of Touch
Bioengineering Co-PI: George D. Stetten, MD, PhD, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh and Research Professor, Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI: Joel S. Schuman, MD, PhD
Summary: One of the difficulties present during microsurgery is that the surgeon’s sense of touch is greatly diminished, especially within sensitive structures like the human eye. Being able to gauge force is crucial in ophthalmology, where structures within the eye can only be cut and manipulated via sight, rather than feel. The Hand-Held Force Magnifier contains sensors that measure small forces between the tool and tissue, then returns those push-pull forces as an amplified signal back to the surgeon’s fingertips. This potentially allows surgeons to better control small movements.
Treating Gum Disease Through the Recruitment of Regulatory Lymphocytes
Bioengineering Co-PI: Steven R. Little, PhD
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI: Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD
Summary: According to the American Dental Academy, periodontal disease affects an estimated 78 million Americans and is the leading cause of tooth loss and contributes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and even premature childbirth. The gum tissue is eventually destroyed by the patient’s own immune response. Current treatments include the removal of the invasive bacteria that cause plaque through often painful tooth scaling and root planing – methods that actually date to ancient Egypt – as well as antibiotics. The team has developed controlled-release microparticles of a protein called CCL22 that utilizes the body’s immune system more effectively than antibiotics to reduce inflammation and induce periodontal regeneration.
Reducing Surgical Site Infection After Implantation of Permanent Cardiac Rhythm Management Devices (CRMD)
Bioengineering Co-PI: Yadong Wang, PhD
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI: David Schwartzman, MD
Summary: Over 600,000 CRMD systems such as pacemakers and defibrillators were implanted worldwide in 2010, and because of limited battery life, most CRMD patients will survive long enough to undergo multiple device implants. Despite best current practices, post-CRMD implantation infection continues to occur in approximately 2 percent of US cases alone. This number is also likely to rise as patients undergoing CRMD implantation are increasingly elderly and frail. The implications of CRMD infection are profound because infections cannot be cured without complete removal of the devices. This includes mortality (4-7 fold increase relative to uninfected patients), morbidity (2-4 fold increased length of hospital stay), and high cost ($28,000-$53,000 average additional spend per patient). The aggregate US costs related to CRMD infection in 2010 were in excess of $300 million. This Coulter team proposes the use of coacervate, a material comprised of biodegradable spherical droplets which have been configured to protect and deliver fibroblast growth factor (a protein which accelerates healing), rifampin, and minocycline evenly over several weeks, which is more consistent with the actual recuperation time after CRMD surgery. The liquid material allows for simple delivery just prior to CRMD wound closure. The funding will allow for preclinical development to better determine formulation, dose, and efficacy prior to human testing.
Illustration: Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program, University of Pittsburgh