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July 12, 2001

McGowan center expands to include regenerative medicine

To help realize the potential of tissue engineering and other techniques aimed at repairing damaged or diseased tissues and organs, Pitt's School of Medicine and UPMC Health System have established the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine (MIRM).

Regenerative medicine is an emerging field that approaches the repair or replacement of tissues and organs by incorporating the use of cells, genes or other biological building blocks along with bioengineered materials and technologies.

The MIRM will serve as a single base of operations for the University's leading scientists and clinical faculty working to develop tissue engineering, cellular therapies, biosurgery and artificial and biohybrid organ devices.

It is expected that the new institute will devise innovative clinical protocols as well as pursue rapid commercial transfer of its technologies related to regenerative medicine.

The new institute takes its name from the McGowan Center for Artificial Organ Development which, under its current guise, will cease to exist. Its faculty and programs will be incorporated into the MIRM, and with the MIRM's expanded role and mission, other University faculty will join forces as well. These include researchers working in tissue engineering, adult-derived stem cell research and wound healing, among others.

The MIRM will be directed by Alan J. Russell, who is the Nikolas DeCecco Professor and chair of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt's School of Engineering and associate director of the University's Center for Biotechnology and Bioengineering.

Russell is internationally renowned for his research on biomaterials and bioengineering and holds a number of patents. He is executive director of the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, a post he will continue in for at least another year.

"This institute will be the most ambitious tissue engineering program in the nation, coupling biology and engineering in all facets of its work," stated Russell, whose primary academic appointment now will be in the medical school's Department of Surgery. "The University of Pittsburgh and UPMC Health System provide the perfect home for such an enterprise because of their leading programs in organ transplantation, biomedical research and bioengineering."

The MIRM is expected to establish itself as a model for technology transfer. In addition, the institute plans to compete for major funding and to establish itself as a location for a National Tissue Engineering Center.

Bartley P. Griffith, Henry T. Bahnson Professor of Surgery, who has directed the McGowan Center for Artificial Organ Development since its inception in 1992, will become the new institute's medical director.

"The establishment of this institute is a natural extension of the McGowan Center's vision and missions, to ease the suffering of patients," Griffith said.

"Our center's work has progressively incorporated a combination of pure mechanically engineered and cell-based biohybrid organ development. I am excited about the research empowerment this larger institute will provide. I am betting that the expanded team of talented researchers will help bring our discoveries to bear in the clinic."

A number of projects will be conducted at the MIRM, including those in progress at the former McGowan Center. These include efforts to develop an axial-flow left-ventricular assist system for patients with end-stage heart disease, a respiratory assist device for patients with acute lung failure, a biohybrid artificial lung intended for long-term use, a novel blood additive that improves blood flow to oxygen-deprived tissues, a bio-engineered blood vessel, and a myocardial patch of muscle cells intended to repair heart tissue damaged by heart attack.

Many of the MIRM researchers will focus on developing and evaluating various biomaterials as well as looking at the potential of therapies using adult-derived stem cells.

The MIRM will be housed where the McGowan Center was planning to move early next year — in a two-story, 45,000-square-foot "green design" building on Pittsburgh's South Side, on the site of former LTV Steel. Construction of the building is being made possible through grants from the McGowan Charitable Fund, Heinz Endowments, R.K. Mellon Foundation and the state Department of Community Development and Economic Development.  

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