Dr. Vande Geest receives Center for Medical Innovation Award


The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) awarded grants totaling $47,500 to three research groups through its 2019 Round-2 Pilot Funding Program for Early Stage Medical Technology Research and Development. The latest funding proposals include a system for preservation of explanted hearts used in transplantation surgery, a new vascular stent with anti-thrombogenic capability, and a rugged, infection resistant material for orthopedic implants.

CMI, a University Center housed in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE), supports applied technology projects in the early stages of development with “kickstart” funding toward the goal of transitioning the research to clinical adoption. Proposals are evaluated on the basis of scientific merit, technical and clinical relevance, potential health care impact and significance, experience of the investigators, and potential in obtaining further financial investment to translate the particular solution to healthcare.

“This is our eighth year of pilot funding, and our leadership team could not be more excited with the breadth and depth of this round’s awardees,” said Alan D. Hirschman, PhD, CMI Executive Director. “This early-stage interdisciplinary research helps to develop highly specific biomedical technologies through a proven strategy of linking UPMC’s clinicians and surgeons with the Swanson School’s engineering faculty.”

AWARD 1: “A Structurally and Mechanically Tunable Biocarpet for Peripheral Arterial Disease”

For the development of a material and method of deployment of specialized materials that coat the inner lumen of synthetic vascular grafts. The coating will greatly improve the viability and anti-thrombogenic properties of long stent grafts which overlap flexible joints.

  • Jonathan P. Vande Geest, PhD, Professor of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering
  • William R. Wagner, PhD, Professor of Surgery and Bioengineering, Surgery, McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
  • Dr. John J. Pacella, MD, Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine, UPMC

Ali Behrangzade receives American Heart Association Fellowship


Behrangzade works in the STBL where they have extensive experience in design, optimization, manufacturing and in vivo evaluation of tissue-engineered vascular grafts (TEVGs). These grafts are used in a coronary artery bypass procedure which is required for most patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). The surgery requires autologous vessels, which are blood vessels harvested from the patient’s own body, however, these vessels are not always suitable because of prior harvesting or pre-existing vascular disease.

One of the major causes of graft failure in reconstructive CABG surgery is intimal hyperplasia (IH). This pathological condition is characterized by the thickening of the inner layer of a blood vessel due to an undesired mechanical and biological environment. As part of Behrangzade’s TEVG project, he will create an optimized TEVG-patch system and surgically connect it to an artery (anastomose) to evaluate the performance in an animal model.

“Our approach will be to use a combined experimental and computational strategy to design, fabricate and assess the ability of a mechanically and geometrically optimized biopolymer TEVG-patch to maintain the homeostatic biomechanical environment (solid and fluid) in an end-to-side anastomosis,” said Behrangzade “We hypothesize that this will reduce the incidence of IH and therefore improve the patency rate of bypass procedures. The optimized graft-patch will then be fabricated and implanted into a rabbit carotid artery end-to-side anastomosis model to assess the function of the graft-patch system in vivo. The results of this study will potentially make significant improvements in the outcome of CABG surgery.”

Dr. Barkmeier-Kraemer and Dr. Vande Geest receive R01 Grant


Title – Vascular Connective Tissues as a Factor in onset of Idiopathic Vocal Fold Paralysis

Abstract – The goal of this research is to systematically investigate the contribution of the compliance levels of the aortic arch and pulmonary artery to onset of impaired function of the recurrent laryngeal branch (RLN) of the vagus nerve associated with unilateral vocal fold paralysis (UVP). The RLN provides sensorimotor innervation to the muscles that control the vocal folds within the larynx. Vocal fold function is important for protection of the airway during swallowing, the regulation of breathing, and for voice production. Individuals with UVP frequently experience choking while eating, difficulty breathing, and difficulty speaking. The majority of individuals diagnosed with UVP are older than 45 years of age. Although surgery is the most common etiology of UVP, approximately 12-42% of those diagnosed with UVP have no known cause (i.e. idiopathic). Prior work studying idiopathic onset of UVP in horses identified nerve changes and characteristics indicative of chronic compression on the RLN near the aortic arch. Our team recently identified that individuals with iUVP exhibited significantly higher aortic arch compliance than age- and gender-matched controls as a possible contributing factor in iUVP. This finding supported our hypothesis that RLN stress and strain levels associated with aortic arch dynamic diameter changes could impact RLN function. Similar patterns in pulmonary artery compliance levels were also identified in the same group of those with iUVP compared to normal controls suggesting a systemic change in vascular compliance. Given that the left RLN is most commonly associated with iUVP, we hypothesize that increased compliance levels in large- diameter blood vessels adjacent to the RLN (i.e. aortic arch and pulmonary artery) can impair RLN function due to excessive stress and strain levels that compromise the nerve’s protective layers of connective tissues resulting in damaged nerve fibers. The goal of this project is to investigate the level of compliance change in the aorta associated with impaired RLN function in pigs. We will also expand imaging of the aortic arch and pulmonary artery to include the right subclavian artery to determine whether vascular compliance levels generally differ between those with iUVP compared to controls. In addition, we will compare compliance levels between a large-diameter vessel (aortic arch) and a small-diameter vessel (right subclavian artery) associated with the RLN between human subjects with iUVP and matched normal controls. Outcomes will eludicate whether the size of vessel explains the predominance of left-sided iUVP. Systematic comparison of medical, environmental, and genetic historical data between human subject groups will also enable identification of risk factors associated with hypercompliance of the vasculature. Outcomes of this project will elucidate the role of vascular hypercompliance on impaired RLN function in those with iUVP and determine co-morbidities and risk factors that could lead to prevention or alternative treatment approaches for iUVP in the future.