During the Magee-Womens Summit, the Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI) awarded the $1 million Magee Prize to an international team led by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Pamela Moalli, MD, PhD, director of urogynecology and pelvic reconstruction surgery at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and MWRI. The team is working to develop new biomaterials to repair tissue loss in women with compromised vaginal structure and function.
“We believe we are the right team to achieve the aims of the proposal, and we look forward to a productive collaboration in the future,” said Dr. Moalli in accepting the award.
An increasing number of women are seeking vaginal reconstruction to repair tissue loss after surgery for pelvic cancers or following ovariectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, which can result in the vagina becoming contracted, thinned, and painful. After noticing a limited range of biomaterials for these procedures, Dr. Moalli was inspired to develop better solutions.
She assembled a team that includes McGowan Institute affiliated faculty member Kyle Orwig, PhD, MWRI and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Caroline Gargett, PhD, Monash University, Australia. Their project seeks to identify stem cell populations that restore vaginal structure and function and isolate the cellular ecosystems needed for stem cell survival, proliferation, and engraftment. The researchers will use a novel bioassay to develop vaginal organoids from these stem cell populations.
“I am beyond excited about this study because it provides a viable solution to young girls and women in whom vaginal structure and function has been compromised. Stem cell technologies for use in tissue biofabrication is where the future of reconstructive surgery lies,” Dr. Moalli said.
The Magee Prize, which is funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, is among the largest grants of its kind in women’s health that is awarded by a non-government institution. To qualify for the prize, teams must include at least one MWRI researcher and at least one international collaborator.
Illustration: The winning team of the 2021 Magee Prize. Magee-Womens Research Institute.