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University of Pittsburgh receives $3.54 million translational bioengineering research award

PITTSBURGHThe Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh has received a $3.54 million grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation. Pitt is one of only five universities nationwide to receive the foundation's Coulter Translational Partnership II Award; the five-year grant to the Swanson School's Department of Bioengineering will fund research that employs engineering techniques to develop improvements in health care, with the ultimate goal of accelerating the introduction of new technologies into patient care.

The award from the Coulter Foundation will be supplemented by $1.5 million in matching funds from the Pitt School of Medicine, the Swanson School, and the University's Office of Technology Management.

"We are thrilled to have been chosen to receive this award and participate in the Coulter Foundation program. Not only will it be of tremendous benefit to the individual researchers who receive funding, but it affirms both the growing prominence and future potential of Pitt's bioengineering program," said Gerald D. Holder, Pitt's U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering.

Harvey Borovetz, chair of the Department of Bioengineering, the Robert L. Hardesty Professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Surgery, and deputy director of the Artificial Organs and Medical Devices division of the Pitt-UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will be the principal investigator and one of three coleaders for the Coulter program at Pitt.

The other members of the leadership team for the Coulter program at Pitt are Stephen Badylak, a professor in the School of Medicine's Department of Surgery and director of tissue engineering in the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Marc Malandro, director of the Office of Technology Management and associate vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization at Pitt.

Pratap Khanwilkar will serve as the Coulter Program Director and Visiting Professor in the Swanson School's bioengineering department and as Executive-In-Residence at the University's Office of Technology Management.

Khanwilkar, who has studied, taught, and conducted research at the University of Utah for 28 years, most recently as an adjunct professor in the Department of Bioengineering, is the founder of six medical device product/service companies. In a uniquely fashioned, multifaceted position, Khanwilkar has been hired to guide the development of appropriate projects to be undertaken by Pitt researchers; ensure that they are properly vetted by a Coulter oversight committee; and facilitate the progress of securing additional funding, licensing intellectual property, and developing spin-off companies.

"We are especially pleased to have been chosen to receive this award because the University has demonstrated not only its ability to form partnerships between clinicians and engineers to develop ideas and products that will directly impact patients, but also the passion to see those ideas through to clinical application," Borovetz said.

Coulter Foundation Director of Research Awards Michael Gara agreed that passion and commitment were key determinants in Pitt's selection as an award recipient. Another significant determinant was the strength of the relationships the foundation has had with both individuals like Borovetz and the Pitt researchers whom the foundation already supports through the Coulter Translation Research Awards program for individual investigators.

"Harvey has a very good understanding of our program and its unique emphasis on projects that have the potential to make it out of the University and into the clinic," said Gara.

The $3.54 million award was made to Pitt as part of a second phase of program development from the Coulter Foundation. Translational partnership awards through the first program development phase were made in 2004 to 11 U.S. universities. The $50 million awarded by Coulter in that first phase has resulted in an additional $300 million in investments to further the development and market applications of the various projects initiated as a result of the 11 Coulter-funded programs.

The Coulter Foundation also has agreed to fund seven of those first-phase programs with an additional $10 million. Similar long-term funding could be made to Pitt and the other second-phase recipients based upon their ability to meet Coulter's metrics for measurable outcomes and secure matching funds.

Gara further explained that the foundation used feedback it sought from universities that received funding in the first phase of the program to adopt a more formal procedure, dubbed the "Coulter Process," which Gara believes will yield even richer technology transfers of new products, applications, materials, and/or services to the medical community.

The Coulter Process allows for a one-year startup period during which the five-year program will be established on campus by the Pitt program's leadership team.

"Through the research funded by this generous award, the University's bioengineering faculty members are pleased to partner with the Coulter Foundation in working to fulfill the mission of Wallace Coulter expressed in his company's motto, 'Science Serving Humanity,' " Borovetz stated.


Contact: Karen Hoffmann
University of Pittsburgh

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