Three projects that aim to solve health issues across the lifespan were each awarded $100,000 prizes in the third Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh™). Three other projects received $25,000 awards.
PInCh is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the Office of the Provost, and the Innovation Institute. During the first phase of the competition, which began in May, 46 teams submitted a video entry to answer the question, “How can health be enhanced by bridging factors that impact life stages?” Sixteen teams were then asked to provide a written description of their projects, and finalists were chosen to present during the showcase. Six teams competed in the $100,000 category, and seven teams competed in the $25,000 category.
The $100,000 awards were given to:
NEATCAP A hearing protection device for babies in neonatal intensive care units that blocks noxious noise and aims to reduce infant stress, improve sleep, and promote brain development. Team: Fred Kimock, Michael Balsan, Jeanne Burns, and Emily Hirsch
OXI-Dent A coating developed to solve the problem of dental implant inflammation. Team: Noah Snyder, Andrew Glowacki, James Eles, Kasey Catt, and Zhanhong Du
Phoenix A man-made prosthetic blood vessel that is gradually replaced by human tissue as it degrades in the body. An off‐the‐shelf product, the graft could be used in dialysis patients and for other conditions in which a replacement blood vessel is needed. Team: Yadong Wang, Prabir Roy-Chaudhury, Daniel Long, Eric Jeffries, Piyusha Gade, and Chelsea Stowell
With the University of Pittsburgh’s development of a cell-free, biodegradable artery graft comes a potentially transformative change in coronary artery bypass surgeries: Within 90 days after surgery, the patient will have a regenerated artery with no trace of synthetic graft materials left in the body.
Research published online June 24 in Nature Medicine highlights work led by principal investigator Yadong Wang, a professor in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, who designed grafts that fully harness the body’s regenerative capacity. This new approach is a philosophical shift from the predominant cell-centered approaches in tissue engineering of blood vessels.
“The host site, the artery in this case, is an excellent source of cells and provides a very efficient growth environment,” said Wang. “This is what inspired us to skip the cell culture altogether and create these cell-free synthetic grafts.”
Despite significant advances, the development of synthetic biomaterials still presents significant challenges in the field of biomedical engineering. Although synthetic biodegradable materials such as polyester exist, most are biologically inert and lack functionality. Now, thanks to a research team at the University of Pittsburgh, a synthetic platform has been developed that will help produce diverse biodegradable materials for specific biomedical applications. These findings were published online in the March 30 issue of Advanced Functional Materials.
The Pitt team, led by principal investigator Yadong Wang, a professor in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, developed the platform using polymerization between acid and epoxide, a cyclic ether with three ring atoms.
“For the first time, we present a polymerization approach that is very practical and includes a wide range of starting materials, simple synthesis, and easy modifications,” said Wang. “This platform shows promise in the advancement of tissue engineering and drug delivery and could produce a variety of biodegradable and functionalized biomaterials.”
Ever since the Nobel Prize for nerve growth factor was awarded more than 30 years ago, researchers have been searching for ways to use growth factor clinically.
University of Pittsburgh Professor Yadong Wang has developed a minimally invasive method of delivering growth factor to regrow blood vessels. His research, which could be used to treat heart disease, the most common cause of death in the Western world, is published this week in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wang is a professor in the Department of Bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the Department of Surgery in the University’s School of Medicine. He is also affiliated with the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine (MIRM). His coauthors are Johnny Huard, professor in the Department of Bioengineering and the School of Medicine’s Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery, Molecular Genetics, and Pathology, as well as MIRM; graduate student Hunghao Chu and postdoctoral fellow Jin Gao in the Departments of Bioengineering and Surgery; and Chien-Wen Chen, a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering and surgery.
When the researchers injected their growth factor compound under the skin of mice, they saw something amazing: New blood vessels grew, and large ones, not just tiny capillaries. “We had structures that resembled arterioles—small arteries that lead to a network of capillaries,” says Wang.
Moreover, the structures stuck around. At least a month later, after only one injection of the growth factor complex, the new blood vessels were still there.
University of Pittsburgh researchers have grown arteries that exhibit the elasticity of natural blood vessels at the highest levels reported, a development that could overcome a major barrier to creating living-tissue replacements for damaged arteries, the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team used smooth muscle cells from adult baboons to produce the first arteries grown outside the body that contain a substantial amount of the pliant protein elastin, which allows vessels to expand and retract in response to blood flow. Lead researcher Yadong Wang, a professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, his postdoctoral researcher Kee-Won Lee, and Donna Stolz, a professor of cell biology and physiology in Pitt’s School of Medicine, cultured the baboon cells in a nutrient-rich solution to bear arteries with approximately 20 percent as much elastin as an inborn artery.
The Pitt process is notable for its simplicity, Wang said. Elastin—unlike its tougher counterpart collagen that gives vessels their strength and shape—has been notoriously difficult to reproduce. The only successful methods have involved altering cell genes with a virus; rolling cell sheets into tubes; or culturing elastin with large amounts of transforming growth factor, Wang said. And still these previous projects did not report a comparison of elastin content with natural vessels.