RESEARCH TEAM

THOMAS GLEASON, MD
 

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Dr. Gleason received his BS from Middlebury College and his MD from Rush Medical College. He completed his internship and obtained his MS at the University of Virginia and completed residencies in cardiothoracic surgery and cardiac surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gleason’s primary clinical and basic science research interests are focused on the study and management of the bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) syndrome. His basic science research efforts since completion of his cardiac surgical training have been devoted to the study of the aortopathy of BAV. Dr. Gleason has extensive clinical experience managing patients with BAV and associated thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAA) and has studied the aortic wall from BAV patients in his basic science laboratory for more than 10 years. Dr. Gleason maintains an active clinical practice in adult cardiac and thoracic aortic surgery and was director of the thoracic aortic surgical programs previously at Northwestern University and now at the University of Pittsburgh. He established and directs the Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to facilitate the multidisciplinary diagnosis and management of patients with thoracic aortic disease and to support clinical and basic science research of these diseases. Dr. Gleason established and directs the Thoracic Aortic Disease Research Laboratory in collaboration with Dr. Phillippi to facilitate translational basic science research specifically of the BAV syndrome. Drs Gleason and Phillippi established and maintain a robust, prospectively-attained thoracic aortic tissue bank to facilitate this research that now houses over 400 (of which over half are from BAV patients) thoracic aortic tissue samples. Dr. Gleason is a permanent member (2014-2018) of the Bioengineering, Technology, and Surgical Sciences (BTSS) Study Section for the Center for Scientific Review at the National Institutes of Health, and serves as an ad hoc reviewer for Circulation, Journal of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
JULIE PHILLIPPI, PHD
 

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Dr. Julie Phillippi received her BS in Microbiology from the Pennsylvania State University and her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Carnegie Mellon University with a focus on extracellular matrix signaling in stem cell differentiation of mineralized tissues. Dr. Phillippi completed her post-doctoral training as a fellow with the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative and was supported by an NIH-sponsored T32 award. Her post-doctoral work was focused on spatial control of stem cell differentiation using inkjet-based growth factor deposition on native substrates. This work gained international attention and was featured in several media outlets including Science, Popular Science and MSNBC/Reuters. In 2007, Dr. Phillippi joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery in 2007. She was promoted to Assistant Professor in the tenure stream in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 2011. Dr. Phillippi also holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering. Dr. Phillippi’s research interests include vasa vasorum networks in health and disease, aortic wall biology, multi-lineage differentiation of perivascular cells, inkjet-based growth factor biopatterning, and scaffold-based tissue culture. Dr. Phillippi is a peer reviewer for Acta Biomaterialia, Cytometry A, the Journal of Biomechanics, Journal of Developmental Biology and Tissue Engineering, Journal of The Royal Society, Interface, International Society for Applied Cardiovascular Biology, Medical Research Council (UK), Society for Free Radical Biology and Medicine, Stem Cells, Stem Cells and Development, Tissue Engineering, Wound Repair and Regeneration. Dr. Phillippi participates in educational outreach including University of Pittsburgh-Bioengineering Summer Camps, Regenerative Medicine Summer School at the McGowan Institute, Girls in Math and Science Partnership- CanTEEN mentor and “Tour Your Future” host, Girl Scouts of America (lab tours), Penn State Alumni Mentoring Network, Penn State Co-operative Education Externship Program-Host and is an active mentor/partner for the Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience.
MARIE BILLAUD, PHD
 

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Marie Billaud is Research Assistant Professor in the Thoracic Aortic Disease Research lab. Dr. Billaud received her PhD from the Université de Bordeaux in France where her doctoral research was focused on intercellular communication, reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide signaling, and how they regulate vascular tone in the pulmonary circulation. Dr. Billaud further worked as a post-doctoral fellow and an Instructor of Research at the University of Virginia, where her project was to identify the role of a newly discovered protein (pannexins) in the adrenergic-mediated regulation of vascular tone and blood pressure. Dr. Billaud joined the University of Pittsburgh in January 2014, and her primary goal is to investigate potential impairment of TGF beta signaling in smooth muscle cells from patients with thoracic aortic aneurysm. In parallel, she will integrate her knowledge in reactive oxygen species signalization to identify the mechanisms behind the impaired oxidative stress response in patients with bicuspid aortic valve that was identified by the Gleason lab. Lastly, Dr. Billaud will incorporate her skills in vasoreactivity to investigate the contractile ability of aortic vasa vasorum from patients with thoracic aortic aneurysm. Dr. Billaud’s work has been published as original research articles and cover art in journals such as Circulation Research, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, and Microcirculation. Marie also serves as a peer reviewer for Microcirculation, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Applied Physiology and American Journal of Physiology.
Post Doctoral Fellows
PATRICK CHAN, MD
Patrick Chan received his BA from Boston University double majoring in Biology and Psychology. He then went on to receive his MD from Drexel University College of Medicine. He joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in July 2012 and is currently a resident in the Integrated 6-Year Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency. He is interested in the role of ROS in the progression of aneurysmal disease in BAV patients and how to clinically prevent its progression. He has published his research in journals such as Current Biology and Multimedia Manual of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery. His research has been presented at national meetings such as the Mitral Valve Conclave and the Society for Thoracic Surgery Annual Meeting.

Patrick’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health via an F32 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award.
LEONID EMEREL, MD
Leonid received his BS in Cell Biology and Neuroscience from Rutgers University, and his MD from Rutgers University- New Jersey Medical School. He joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in July 2013 and is currently a resident in the Integrated 6-Year Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency Program. His research interests include the use of 3D scaffold-based culture models to uncover mechanisms of reactive oxidative species generation and response in bicuspid aortic valve-associated aortopathy.

Leonid’s research is funded by the American Heart Association via a Clinician Scientist Training Program Grant.
Lauren Huckaby, MD
Lauren received her BS in Biochemistry from Brown University. She then went on to receive her MD from Temple University School of Medicine. She joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in July 2014 as a resident in General Surgery. Her research interests include sex differences in thoracic aortic aneurysm in both bicuspid and tricuspid aortic valve patients. In particular, she is interested in the role of estrogen in extracellular matrix degeneration. Lauren’s research is currently funded through a Nina Starr Braunwald Research Fellowship Award from the Thoracic Surgery Foundation.
Medical Students
BRYANT FISHER
Bryant is a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh where he also obtained his undergraduate degree in Biology. Bryant is conducting research in the lab as part of the Dean’s Summer Research Program. His project is focused on the role of ECM-derived growth factor-mediated signals on pericyte function in thoracic aortic disease.
Staff
JENNIFER HILL, MFS
Jen Hill is a Research Specialist in the laboratory. She received a Master’s degree in Forensic Molecular Biology from George Washington University. Jen expertise is molecular biology, nuclear genotyping and sequencing, and mitochondrial DNA sequencing. Her current project in the lab involves investigating regional differences in tissue from human ascending aorta.
TARA RICHARDS
Tara Richards is a Research Specialist in the laboratory. She studied biology and chemistry at Wheeling Jesuit University where, after completion of her bachelor of science, she worked as a senior research technician studying angiogenesis in tumor metastasis. Following this, she worked for Dr. Bryan Tillman in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Vascular Surgery, researching circulating progenitor cell populations and vascular restenosis in response to vascular injury. Tara's areas of expertise include multi-color flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry. Tara’s current project is focused on smooth muscle cell immortalization and characterization of adventitial-derived endothelial cell phenotype and function in the setting of thoracic aortic disease.
Undergraduate Students
JULIANNA BUCHWALD
Juli Buchwald is the 2015 American Heart Association SURP fellow and an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh studying Chemistry in the Pre-Med Track. Juli’s project is focused on the influence of aortic valve morphology on expression and activity of ROS-generating enzymes and antioxidants.
ZAINAB HAKEEM
Zainab is a first year student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is working with Jennifer Hill on scale up of smooth muscle cell culture in vitro.
MCKENZIE HARTMAN
McKenzie is a rising senior at Case Western Reserve University in Biomedical Engineering. McKenzie’s research project is focused on the multi-lineage differentiation potential of human adventitia-derived pericytes.
JULIA KOOSER
Julia is a first year student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is working with Dr. Marie Billaud and Tara Richards on the effects of mechanical stretch on human aortic smooth muscle cells.
SARA SANDERS
Sara is an undergraduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research project in the lab is focused on the differentiation potential of aortic perivascular cells as part of the First Experiences in Research Program.
RACHEL VANRYZIN
Rachel is an undergraduate student at Duke University majoring in Biomedical Engineering/Pre-Med Track. She is working with Dr. Leonid Emerel on perfusion-based bioreactor systems to create 3D dynamic SMC culture models.
High School Students
AUJAH THOMPSON
High school student, Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience
2015-2016
Alumni
Paul VanRyzin
Undergraduate Student
George Fercana
Post-doctoral Fellow, 2015-2017
Roy Navid
High School Student, 2014-2015
Gabe Carrillo
Undergraduate Student
Sarah Duplaga
Undergraduate Student
Bradley Ellis
Undergraduate Student
Julia Gong
Undergraduate Student
Riley Herrmann
Undergraduate Student
Emily Mihalko
Undergraduate Student
Mary Kotlarczyk, PHD
AHA Post-doctoral Fellow, 2011-2014
Ben Green, MS
Research Specialist, 2010-2014
Edgar Bahena
High school student, Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience
2013-2014
Dana Townsend
High school student, Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience
2013-2014
Jackie Birkness
Medical student, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Dean’s Undergraduate Summer Program, 2013
Trevor Weis
Undergraduate researcher, University of Pittsburgh
2011-2012
Filip Istvanic
PTEI Undergraduate Summer Research Experience
2012
Jalice Shedrick
High school student, Doris Duke Summer Academy, UPCI
2012
Michael Kormos
Undergraduate Summer Intern
2012
Wei He, PhD
Post-doctoral Fellow
2010-2011
David Birsen
Undergraduate Summer Intern
2011
Sameer Shakir
Medical Student, University of Pittsburgh
2010
Chris Miller
PTEI Undergraduate Summer Research Experience
2010
Dviya Raghu
High School Student
2010
Team Photo
Thoracic Aortic Research Lab Group Yoga



 

Updated 12-Sep-2017