Students from Yadong Wang Biomaterial Foundry Lab Receive Whitaker Awards
University of Pittsburgh graduating senior Lisa Volpatti and doctoral candidate Noah Johnson—both student researchers affiliated with the lab of McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Yadong Wang, PhD, professor of bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering—have received awards from the Whitaker International Program, which sends emerging U.S. leaders in bioengineering overseas to undertake self-designed projects that will enhance their careers and develop their international ties. This is the fourth consecutive year that Pitt students have received Whitaker awards.
Ms. Volpatti—who received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering degree from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering at the University’s Commencement—has been named a 2013 recipient of the Whitaker International Fellows and Scholars Program award. She will use the award to attend Churchill College at the University of Cambridge in England, where she will pursue a 1-year research degree, the Master of Philosophy in Chemistry. She will focus her research on examining the chemical properties of amyloid fibrils to determine whether they have the potential to deliver pharmaceuticals to parts of the human body.
Ms. Volpatti applied for the Whitaker award because, she explained, “I want to learn how research is different—and similar—around the world.” She served as president of Pitt’s section of the Society of Women Engineers this academic.
Mr. Johnson, a PhD candidate in bioengineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, has won a 2013 Whitaker International Summer Grant award. This summer, he will travel to the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where he will collaborate with researchers to test the effectiveness of injecting growth factors into the walls of heart chambers to repair hearts damaged by heart attacks. In 2012, he was named a co-winner of Pitt’s Randall Family Big Idea Competition for the same project.
“Our growth factor therapy could essentially be extended to any disease or condition—wound healing, bone regeneration. It’s just a matter of fine-tuning. We’re really only limited by the amount of time we have to research,” Mr. Johnson said of the research he’s conducting under Dr. Wang’s guidance. “I’m really excited to focus on cardiac repair because heart disease is one of most pressing health care issues of today.”
About the Whitaker International Program
Beginning in 1975, The Whitaker Foundation supported the development and enhancement of biomedical engineering in the United States, contributing nearly $700 million to universities. When the foundation closed in 2006, it committed its remaining funds to the Institute of International Education to create what is now the Whitaker International Program, whose goal is “to assist the development of professional leaders who are not only superb scientists, but who also will advance the profession through an international outlook.”