Introduction to Regenerative Medicine at the McGowan Institute

“We view ourselves as pioneers.” “The thing that I love the
most about working at the McGowen Institute is that you never know what will happen tomorrow.” “The reason we’re successful is because we get to work on things
that most people think are not possible.” Pioneers and possibilities. The McGowan Institute
for Regenerative Medicine. It’s a new way of treating injuries and
diseases. that uses cells, tissue scaffolds, or
artificial organs to help the body’s own healing process.
It requires a multi-disciplinary approach: biologists, chemists, computer scientists, engineers, physicians, experts in medicine, robotics, genetics, and other fields as
needed. More than 230 faculty members in all to solve some of the most challenging
medical problems on the planet. “We have all these
different brilliant minds out there working on these different problems. I
can’t tell you which ones are going to be successful, but I know if you wanna catch a fish, it’s a lot more powerful having 230-plus lines in the water than two.” As in a symphony orchestra, the best
of regenerative medicine can only be achieved by researchers
bringing different skill sets to work together for a common purpose. To date, millions of patients have been help with
regenerative medicine-based technologies, using tissue engineering, cell-based
therapies, and medical devices, and the future
possibilities are exciting. In addition, the Institute is
committed to clinical translation: moving technologies from the bench to the bedside and to patients in need. Ron Strang and Matt Uram are two of those patients. Matt Uram was
standing next to a small bonfire when someone threw a cup of gasoline
onto the flames. The force of the flash knocked him to
the ground. “And I can see my arm; it just looked like it was all covered with dirt, I mean, but it
was burnt skin – like a piece me of meat that was left on the grill.”
Matt was left with first and second degree burns on his
right arm, shoulder, ear, and face. A team of McGowan
affiliated faculty, working with cellular therapies,
harvesting some Matt’s own healthy skin cells, mixed them in a
solution and using a computerized spray gun
sprayed the liquid onto his wounds. This is Matt Uram today. “It started
right here and was the whole width of my arm, all the
way up here. and here. And then it went up my neck and the right side of my face.” The therapy is still experimental, and only potentially applicable for
first or second degree burns less than a few weeks old, but all you
have to do is look at Matt Uram to know the approach is promising. On patrol in Afghanistan, Ron Strang
turned around to warn the soldier behind him to watch his step. That’s when the IED exploded. “I remember
looking down and seeing my leg splayed open I could see all the way down to the bone. All the
muscle and tissue is removed.” Ron’s quad muscle was severely damaged.
Multiple surgeries and years later, he was struggling. Enter a group of collaborating experts
and a revolutionary concept using tissue engineering. Step 1: start with the bladder of a pig
and remove all the cells. What’s left is a scaffold called
extracellular matrix. Step 2: a surgical team led by Dr. Peter
Rubin implants the scaffold where the quad muscle was lost. Step 3: the scaffold attracts cells
from Ron’s body to form new tissue. With the cell signaling in the scaffold
– coupled with rigorous rehabilitative therapy – the newly formed tissue becomes
functional muscle. “I think that was just such an innovative team
approach because from the onset, you have the
surgeon, you have the regenerative medicine scientists, you have the
rehabilitation specialists, all sitting at the table, all working
together putting their very different perspectives together for this common goal of how can we
maximize the functional benefit for this individual.” And maximize they did. Today Ron Strang is well on the mend and
improving every day. Ron’s therapy is part of a multi-patient
clinical study. At the conclusion of this study, the broad
applicability of this therapy can be fully assessed. “I got a lot of my
life back. I am able to move around and
get out and do the things I love again.” Ron’s success and Matt’s recovery are just
the tip of the iceberg for what’s ahead in regenerative medicine. Transplantation is the only therapy for
end-stage liver failure. Imagine if you could create a liver
elsewhere in the body. Initial research has shown that after
injecting liver cells into a lymph node there is liver function from the treated
lymph node, possibly avoiding the need for a liver transplant. Today, there is a shortage of organs, and some organs are not suitable for
transplant. Research is showing that profusing a harvested organ with an oxygen carrying solution during
transportation can significantly increase the
acceptable time interval to implantation and also enhance the viability of the
organ. Current therapies are not effective in
repairing nerve damage when the gap in the damaged nerve is
longer than three centimeters. The development of a tissue-engineered
nerve guide is addressing this need. Progress is also being made in the
application of regenerative therapies for damaged and diseased cartilage, such
as in the treatment of osteoarthritis. The researchers developing a cell-based
injectable scaffold, which – when injected as a fluid – is
designed to fill and repair the defective areas and to restore joint mobility. For severely fractured bone, surgeons
used metallic screws or plates to hold the bone in place until healing is
complete. Today, metallic parts implanted in the
body remain for the life of the patient. Researchers are developing biodegradable and biocompatible fixtures so that these
devices can be replaced by healthy tissue after healing. And it’s important to keep in mind that
while many studies are still in the early phases, the possibilities are exciting;
especially so, with the ongoing research that could
lead to whole organ engineering, an area where so many people are in need
and on lists – waiting for transplants: liver, heart, kidneys, lungs. “That’s a tremendous worldwide problem. Most patients die on a waiting list. So if we can take the same technology
and convert it to whole organ engineering, just imagine the difference we could
make in the practice of medicine.” Already several technologies developed
by McGowan faculty are making a difference, as they’ve
transitioned from the laboratory to clinical use and commercial availability. Scott Morley is a biomedical engineer who heads product management at ALung, a company started with technologies developed by McGowan faculty. The ALung system, which is a type of
respiratory dialysis, helps patients with severe breathing
problems get more oxygen into their bloodstreams. “As an institute,
we have every resource we need for full translational medicine and in really getting things to the
point, products to the point, where they can be spun out to a company.” Another success story: tissue glue, a surgical adhesive adapted from
technology developed by McGowan affiliated faculty. It works to speed healing and reduce the
need for post-operative drains after some surgical procedures. And McGowan faculty had developed a tissue-engineered putty that is able to generate new bone from
within the body. The applications for the putty could
include repair of complex bone fractures, cranial facial injuries, and even dental
structures. Dr. Hal Wrigley, who heads the
spin-out company Formabone, is moving the bone putty
technology from the lab to clinical use. He is especially excited by the
potential benefit of helping to treat wounded warriors. “I was a Green Beret in Viet Nam.
I experienced first-hand what happens with traumatic injuries,
and to think that somehow Formabone can help heal these wounds and grow back bone.
Coupled along with the muscle regeneration that’s been developed here at McGowan, this is really a passion for
me.” The McGowan Institute for Regenerative
Medicine: an internationally recognized center
of excellence, developing and delivering the future, educating
generations of scientists and clinicians, and moving discoveries
from the lab into life. “Success can be measured by
other things: how many papers have been published, how many grants that you get, or whatever. But really there’s nothing that beats us being able to say that there have been literally millions
of patients that have been treated because of the technology that started in this laboratory. That’s the most fun part the job.” The McGowan Institute for Regenerative
Medicine: a program of the University of
Pittsburgh and UPMC.


  1. Learn more about the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at their website: 

  2. I have, what I would think is, a simple problem to fix. I had my hair removed with laser hair removal, and though my suffering is all social, I have sought for nearly a decade for a cure to tho disfiguring cosmetic procedure, as I went from an outgoing super nice guy to a quiet, scared to smile introvert. Though I have learned to live with my disfigured face, I still seek a way to return it to what it was, and I feel you all are the closest I have found to returning me to my original form. I will watch you for the rest of my life, more than likely.

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published