Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Department of Bioengineering combines hands-on experience with the solid fundamentals that students need to advance themselves in research, medicine, and industry. The Department has a long-standing and unique relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and other academic departments at the University of Pittsburgh as well as neighboring Carnegie Mellon University. Our faculty are shared with these organizations, offering our graduate and undergraduate students access to state-of-the-art facilities and a wide array of research opportunities. We currently have 190 graduate students who are advised by some 100 different faculty advisers, pursuing graduate research across 17 Departments and five Schools. Our undergraduate class-size of approximately 50 students per year ensures close student-faculty interactions in the classroom and the laboratory.

The main engineering building is located next to the Medical Center in Oakland, an elegant university neighborhood with museums, parks, and great restaurants. Beautiful new facilities have also been built, a short shuttle ride from the main campus, along the Monongahela River, replacing the steel mills that once were there. Our department is growing rapidly, both in numbers of students and faculty, and in the funding and diversity of our research. The Pittsburgh bioengineering community is a vibrant and stimulating alliance of diverse components for which our department forms an essential and central connection.


Pitt researchers receive $1.54 million NIH grant to facilitate fabrication of vascular grafts with artificial stem cells

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum

PITTSBURGH (June 29, 2016) … The National Institutes of Health have awarded David Vorp, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research of the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, and colleagues with a grant worth more than $1.54 million to fund their study investigating artificial stem cells in the development of engineered vascular grafts. Some current regenerative medicine approaches use mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) harvested from the patient to help rebuild or repair damaged or diseased tissues. Dr. Vorp and his team have pioneered the use of MSCs in the development of tissue-engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs), which may be effective in small diameter arterial bypass procedures or arteriovenous access for dialysis. However, MSCs taken from patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease, such as the elderly and diabetics, may be dysfunctional. Furthermore, the use of harvested cells that require extended culture expansion also runs the risk of cellular contamination or transformation, as well as high costs and substantial waiting time before a graft can be made and implanted. “Fully functional human MSCs secrete a host of biochemicals, including those that prevent blood clotting and those that ‘call’ into the TEVGs important cells from the host, such as inflammatory cells, smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells,” said Vorp. “We have found that MSCs from diabetics, for example, are relatively ineffective in yielding a successful TEVG compared to MSCs from non-diabetics.  Considering that diabetics make up a large proportion of patients who need bypass grafts, we needed to find an alternative means to achieve our goal for this significant population.”   To answer this challenge, the research team has developed artificial stem cells (artMSCs) that are created by encapsulating the veritable cocktail of biochemicals secreted by normally functioning MSCs in culture into biodegradable microspheres that are similar in size to actual MSCs. “By ‘tuning’ or adjusting the degradation rate of the microspheres, we can replicate the release of these biochemicals by real, fully-functional MSCs,” said Vorp. He and his colleagues will then seed the artMSCs into porous, tubular scaffolds and implant them in a rat model as they have done with MSCs in fabricating TEVGs. The study, entitled “Artificial Stem Cells for Vascular Tissue Engineering,” aims to accelerate the clinical translation of the team’s TEVG technology. This will be achieved, according to Vorp, “both by making the technology applicable to all patients – even those with dysfunctional MSCs – and by reducing the regulatory barriers associated with the need for culture-expanding cells to the numbers necessary to fabricate a TEVG.” Vorp is joined on this study by Pitt colleagues Steven Little, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor and Chair of Chemical Engineering; William Wagner, Professor of Surgery and Director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; Morgan Fedorchak, Assistant Professor of Opthalmology; and Justin Weinbaum, Research Assistant Professor of Bioengineering. ###
Author: Matthew Cichowicz, Contributing Writer and Editor

NIH grant to support continuation of joint regenerative medicine program between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon

Bioengineering, Civil & Environmental, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (May 18, 2016) … With the goal of advancing regenerative medicine therapies, a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has received a five-year, $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide training in biomechanical engineering principles and biology to students pursuing a doctoral degree in bioengineering. “Training in Biomechanics in Regenerative Medicine” (BiRM) is funded through the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s T32 grant program. The program director and principal investigator is Savio L-Y. Woo, PhD, D.Sc., D.Eng., Distinguished University Professor of Bioengineering in the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and the founder and director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center (MSRC) at Pitt. He is joined by co-investigators, James Antaki, PhD, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and David Vorp, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at the Swanson School. According to Drs. Woo, Antaki and Vorp, regenerative medicine uses methods including tissue engineering, cellular therapies, biosurgery and artificial and biohybrid organ devices, to address tissue/organ insufficiency. Yet despite several early successes, bioengineers have faced challenges in repairing or replacing tissues that serve a predominantly biomechanical function. The Pitt-CMU program aims to bridge that gap by training students in both biomechanical engineering principles and biology. “Regenerative medicine is at a critical juncture in its evolution, and Pitt and CMU are uniquely positioned to create an interdisciplinary program to benefit our graduate students,” Dr. Woo said. “Since the BiRM program is not central to any one department, it provides students with both fundamental knowledge and problem-solving skills as well as inter-departmental didactic and research experiences, and specialized training in areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship.” To develop these diverse skills, BiRM incorporates faculty from Pitt’s departments of Bioengineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science in the Swanson School of Engineering; Carnegie Mellon’s departments of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering; and Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences, including the School of Dental Medicine, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, and Division of Cardiology. BiRM faculty also have appointments in the joint Pitt-CMU Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Woo noted that during BiRM's first two cohorts, 30 students gained a solid foundation for productive and independent careers in academia, industry, and medicine spanning a wide range of physiological systems including orthopedics, vascular surgery, dentistry, urology, and others. Over the next five years, the Pitt-CMU partnership seeks to sponsor six pre-doctoral fellowships per year corresponding to approximately 14 additional fellowships over the course of the program, as well as to allow further development of the curriculum and increase the emphasis on clinical translation of biomechanics and regenerative medicine research. ###


NIH Funds Pitt Study to Develop Culture-Free Fat Cell-Based Vascular Grafts in Cardiovascular Disease Patients


PITTSBURGH (April 28, 2016) … The National Institutes of Health have awarded David Vorp, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering and Associate Dean for Research of the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, with a two-year, $417,838 R21 grant for research into the use of cells from a patient’s own adipose (fat)  as vascular grafts in arterial bypass surgery. This new method, which has been successful in rat subjects, would allow surgeons to perform bypass surgeries without harvesting arteries or veins from the patient or requiring the time to isolate and grow a specific cell type, such as a stem cell. Coronary bypass procedures often use other arteries or veins as a source for grafts. Arteries that can be used safely as a bypass graft in a different location are in short supply. The great saphenous vein in the leg is one of the most common sources for arterial grafts, but re-purposing veins as arterial bypass grafts can cause complications. “The vein graft, even though it is the most widely used graft material for the coronary or other small diameter artery applications, is not ideal,” said Vorp. “The problem is that veins are not arteries; they are built differently because they have different purposes in the body. Arteries pulse, and they are under higher pressure than veins. When you take a vein segment and put it under arterial conditions, it responds by thickening, which can cause the same blockage you were trying to treat.” Vorp’s study, “An Autologous, Culture-free Adipose Cell-based Tissue Engineered Vascular Graft,” will explore ways to facilitate the translation of technology that has been under development by Dr. Vorp and his associates for a number of years. The current methodology requires stem cells to be carefully extracted from the fat and then spend time in culture before constructing a graft, which itself spends time in additional culture. This new research will explore the potential for skipping the culture steps entirely, first by using all of the fat cells from the patient (instead of isolating and expanding the stem cells alone) and then by implanting the graft immediately instead of culturing it first. The Pitt researchers will also design a way to “scale-up” the process that creates their engineered graft. The method used for small-scale grafts in rats won’t work when the construct is enlarged to a human-scale. “The key focus of the study is the translational aspects,” said Vorp. “We have shown that we can regenerate a small-diameter aorta in a rat that functions for up to a year. We now need to determine how to overcome some logistical issues so that we can use this technology to help human patients, which is why we started the research in the first place. This R21 grant is really facilitating the start of that process.” R21 research grants are designated for exploratory/developmental research, generally still in the conceptual stage. They are often awarded to high risk and high reward studies that have the potential to become much larger in scope. J. Peter Rubin, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Endowed Professor, Chair of Plastic Surgery and Professor of Bioengineering, as well as William R. Wagner, director of Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, will collaborate with Vorp on the study. “This grant is another manifestation of the great environment here at Pitt where you have no walls between engineering, science and clinical medicine. Research is really well integrated, and partnerships are encouraged,” said Vorp. ###
Matt Cichowicz, University Communications Writer

Three University of Pittsburgh Bioengineering Students Accepted into the Whitaker International Program

Bioengineering, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH (April 21, 2016) … Alex Josowitz, Saundria Moed and Timothy Keane, students in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering ( Department of Bioengineering), received awards from the Whitaker International Program. Josowitz and Moed were appointed as 2016 Whitaker Fellows, and Keane was appointed as the 2016 Whitaker Scholar. Whitaker Fellows and Scholars spend one to two years abroad (outside of the U.S. and Canada) to conduct research in a university or laboratory, pursue coursework at an academic institution or intern at a policy institute or in an industrial or non-profit setting ( http://www.whitaker.org/grants/fellows-scholars). The Whitaker award provides round-trip international airfare, a monthly living stipend and other benefits to facilitate the students’ time abroad. Recipients of this national award must demonstrate outstanding scholarship, a strong background in research and a well-thought out research plan for the duration of the fellowship to be selected. “Whitaker Fellows and Scholars represent world-class student researchers and the future leaders of global collaboration in bioengineering,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering at Pitt. “These three students have an excellent opportunity not only to gain international experience but also to serve as ambassadors for Pitt research outside of the U.S.” Alex Josowitz plans to travel to the United Kingdom and work in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Krams at the Imperial College London. His research project will focus on optimizing the RNA isolation protocol for a microfluidic cell-capture system to provide new insight into the progression of cardiovascular diseases. Josowitz will also be enrolled in the Master of Research program in biomedical engineering at the Imperial College London. As an undergraduate student at Pitt, Josowitz has conducted research under the mentorship of David Vorp, Associate Dean for Research and William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering, and Justin Weinbaum, research assistant professor. He has been working to develop and evaluate a novel technique of uniformly seeding 3D tubular constructs with cells or cell-like structures, such as microspheres, in tissue-engineered blood vessels. Saundria Moed will travel to Israel and work in the laboratory of Prof. Rosa Azhari and Dr. Idit Golani at the Ort Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel. Her research project will focus on enhancing the delivery of active materials to the brain using nanoparticles. Moed participated in two independent research activities in Israel last summer at Ort Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel and at Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. As an undergraduate student at Pitt, Moed conducted research under the mentorship of Ian Sigal, assistant professor of ophthalmology at the School of Medicine’s Ocular Biomechanics Laboratory. Her research involves analyzing optical coherence tomography images for quantifying ocular tissue microstructure, especially collagen fibers. Timothy Keane will travel to the United Kingdom and work in the laboratory of Dr. Molly Stevens as a postdoctoral fellow at the Imperial College London. His work will focus on developing a biomaterial that can mitigate inflammation in the heart following myocardial infarction. As a PhD candidate at Pitt, Keane conducted his research work under the mentorship of Stephen Badylak, professor in the Department of Surgery and deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He is focusing on developing minimally invasive therapies for treating inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. ###
Matt Cichowicz, University Communications

Ten current and former Pitt engineering students awarded 2016 National Science Foundation Fellowships

Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Student Profiles

PITTSBURGH—Four University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering students and six alumni were awarded the 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Nine engineering students and three alumni received honorable mention. Overall, the recipients were among the ten Pitt students and eight alumni awarded fellowships, and 14 Pitt students and 10 alumni who received honorable mentions. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program is designed to ensure the vitality and diversity of the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. The program recognizes and supports outstanding students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees. Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees. The fellowship program has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The support accorded NSF Graduate Research Fellows nurtures their ambition to become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Current Pitt students who were awarded the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship include: seniors Emily June Crabb (physics and astronomy, computer engineering) and Trent Maxwell Dillon (civil engineering); and graduate students Donald Edward Kline (electrical engineering) and Michael Gilbert Taylor (chemical engineering). Alumni include Kenechi Aretha Agbim (mechanical engineering, Georgia Tech), Emmeline Blanchard (bioengineering, Georgia Tech), Jann Albert Grovogui (materials science engineering, Northwestern University), Lauren Ann Hapach (bioengineering, Cornell University), David William Palm (chemical engineering, Stanford University), and Christopher James Siviy (mechanical engineering). Current students who received an honorable mention are seniors Christian Gerald Bottenfield (electrical engineering), Stephanie Paolo Cortes (electrical engineering), Luke Drnach (computer engineering), Alexander Danels Josowitz (bioengineering) and Saundria Michelle Moed (bioengineering); and graduate students Patrick Andrew Cody (bioengineering), Daniel Ward Long (bioengineering), and Stephanie Anne Wiltman (bioengineering). Alumni include Olivia Annette Creasy (bioengineering, University of California-San Francisco), Kevin Andrew Day (bioengineering, Johns Hopkins University), and Andrew Head (computer engineering, University of California-Berkeley). Visit https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/grfp/Login.do for a full list of fellows and honorable mentions and to learn more about the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. ###
Joe Miksch, News Director, University Communications

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Bioengineering By The Numbers


Number of Undergraduate Students enrolled for the 2013-2014 Academic Year


Number of PhD Candidates enrolled for the 2014-2015 Academic Year


Number of Masters Candidates enrolled for the 2014-2015 Academic Year



Number of PhD Degrees Awarded in Spring/Summer/Fall 2014 


Number of MS Degrees Awarded in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


Number of BS Degrees Awarded in 2013-2014 Academic Year 



 Number of Faculty Publications in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


 Number of Graduate Publications in 2013-2014 Academic Year 


Number of Undergraduate Publications in 2012-2013 Academic Year