Research Pillars2023-07-26T13:42:00+00:00

Research Pillars

The McPhoto of a scientist holding a beakerGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine operates under three main pillars of research – Medical Devices and Artificial Organs, Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials, and Cellular Therapies – with a commitment to rapid Clinical Translation.

Photo of blue liquid in test tubesWithin the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials program, Institute researchers are working to create biodegradable polymeric materials with appropriate mechanical properties that can be modified to incorporate biological activity. Using these biodegradable materials, tissue engineers are combining temporary scaffolds with cellular components to regenerate tissue.

Combining cells with scaffolding materials to generate functional tissue constructs describes tissue engineering at its most basic level. Understanding and manipulating the complex relationship between the cells and the scaffolding materials, however, represents the great challenge for tissue engineers. What cells should be used, for example, and should the combination of cells and materials occur in vitro or in vivo? What scaffolding material will best facilitate development? How will the tissue construct be functionally integrated?

In the area of biomaterial scaffold development, Institute researchers are working to use biodegradable materials – both natural and synthetic – with appropriate mechanical properties that can be modified to incorporate biological activity, such as growth factors and structural adhesive proteins. Institute researchers are studying novel ways to process materials into three-dimensional structures and to populate these structures with surface-bound biological signaling molecules.

Answering these questions requires the knowledge and expertise of many disciplines: most notably, cell biology and bioengineering. At the McGowan Institute, a strong, close collaboration between cell biologists and engineers with backgrounds in biomechanics and polymer chemistry drives the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Program.

Photo representing cellular therapies

The field of cellular therapeutics is vast, affording an exciting array of potential applications. With a network of researchers and clinicians who are developing a myriad of treatments for many genetic conditions, as well as diseased, mechanically injured or metabolically deficient tissues, the McGowan Institute’s Cellular Therapies Program is squarely at the center of this fast-growing field of regenerative medicine.

A critical question guiding much of this work is which cell type to use for each area of research. Differentiated (specialized) cells, non-differentiated progenitor cells, and stem cells each present unique benefits and drawbacks, and each day yields new insights into their advantages and disadvantages. limited availability, as well as restricted use of embryonic stem cells, spurred Institute researchers to identify other sources of cells capable of differentiating to serve various needs.

Photo of a medical device

One important goal of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine is to develop and define technologies that will maintain, improve or even restore the function of diseased organs. The growing need for these technologies is substantial. Improved health care has resulted in an increased life span for the general population and, when coupled with a growing shortage of donor organs, makes it clear that organ assistance and substitution devices will play a larger role in managing patients with end-stage disease by providing a bridge to recovery or transplantation. (In the U.S. alone, the annual need for organ replacement therapies increases by about 10 percent each year.)The good news is that the field of medical device and artificial organ development is redefining what is believed to be possible for augmenting or replacing organ function. Once constructed only of synthetic components, these devices may now be either fully artificial or bioartificial- so-called “biohybrid organs” – a combination of biologic and synthetic components, often incorporating multiple technologies involving sensors, new biomaterials, and innovative delivery systems.

Some devices – such as the left ventricular assist device and bioartificial liver – will provide assistance while new therapies incorporating stem cells, gene therapy, or engineered tissues are employed to repair or replace the damaged organ. Until these new therapies can be developed and tested, medical devices will play a crucial role in facilitating organ recovery and, perhaps, organ salvage through natural repair mechanisms. Where organ recovery is not possible, artificial organs – when fully refined – will provide a substitute for natural organs.

Visit the Medical Devices Lab Web Site

Visit Pediatric Devices Initiative

Photo of a surgeon operating

Through its affiliation with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine has access to one of the nation’s finest health systems. In fact, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the best health systems in the country, with a well-established and well-organized clinical trial infrastructure, and a large, diverse population from which to draw study subjects.

In addition the Institute’s collaboration with the Department of Defense provides some unique opportunities to facilitate the clinical assessment and translation of emerging regenerative medicine-based therapies.

Through these collaborations, and based on the pioneering studies of McGowan affiliated faculty members, there is a seamless transition from bench top to bedside with the goal of providing excellence in clinical care through mechanisms of repair, recovery and replacement.

For clinical trials at the University of Pittsburgh, click here.

For all NIH sponsored clinical trials in the United States, click here.

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