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Coulter Translational Program invests $340,000 in first four medical technology proposals

PITTSBURGH  (June 22, 2012) … 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 nine-month application and review process and received $340,000 in total funding.

Created through a $3.54 million grant from the  Wallace H. Coulter Foundation  in fall 2011, the five-year Coulter Program will fund translational research to develop new technologies to address unmet clinical needs. The award from the Coulter Foundation - one of only six 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 and Distinguished Professor and Chair of Bioengineering. "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. 

2012 Funded Projects

Resorbable Calcium Phosphate Putty (ReCaPP®) for Bone Regeneration
Bioengineering Co-PI:Prashant Kumta, PhD , Edward R. Weidlein Chair and Professor of Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, University of Pittsburgh
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI:Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD , Associate Professor of Oral Biology and Costello Bernard, Associate Professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, University of Pittsburgh
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 , Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh
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 , Associate Professor, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Chair, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Pittsburgh
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI:Charles Sfeir, DDS, PhD , Associate Professor of Oral Biology, University of Pittsburgh 
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 , Associate Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh
Clinical Practitioner Co-PI:David Schwartzman, MD , Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh
Summary:  Over 600,000 CRMD systems such as pacemakers and defibrillators were implanted worldwide in 2010, and because of limited batter 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 two 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. 

About the Department of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering
Bioengineering is the application of engineering principles to analyze, design, and manufacture tools, structures, and processes to solve problems in the life sciences. Successful patient-focused and commercialization-oriented collaborations between engineers and physicians who traditionally employ differing methodologies are critical to the burgeoning field and to regional economic development. Pitt's Department of Bioengineering, established in 1998 as part of the Swanson School of Engineering, is ranked as one of the nation's top bioengineering programs and has received millions of dollars to fund research for such advances as the development of a tiny cardiac-assist device for infants; a blood-treatment tool that can free patients from ventilator dependence; and materials that help generate bone. 

About the Swanson School of Engineering
The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the United States and is consistently ranked among the top 50 engineering programs nationally. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade and is on the forefront of 21st century technology including energy systems, sustainability, bioengineering, micro- and nanosystems, computational modeling, and advanced materials development. Approximately 120 faculty members serve more than 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students and Ph.D. candidates in six departments, including Bioengineering, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Materials Science. In 2010 the Swanson School was ranked second in North America by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women. 


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