University of Pittsburgh
September 16, 2011

Coulter Foundation Awards Pitt $3.54 Million for Translational Bioengineering

Pitt is one of only five universities nationwide to receive the Coulter Foundation Translational Bioengineering Research Award
Award’s goals are the development of health care improvements through engineering research, accelerating the introduction of new technologies into patient care

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PITTSBURGH—The 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 CoulterBorovetz 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 co-leaders 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.

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.

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 2005 to 9 U.S. universities. The $40 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 9 Coulter-funded programs.

The Coulter Foundation and six universities in the first phase established $20,000,000 funds at each school to continue the program. Half of the funds were contributed by the Coulter Foundation and each school raised the remainder.

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 they believe 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.

About the Pitt Swanson School's Department of Bioengineering

Bioengineering is the application of engineering principles to analyze, design, and manufacture tools, structures, and processes to solve problems in the life sciences. Successful patient-focused and commercialization-oriented collaborations between engineers and physicians who traditionally employ differing methodologies are critical to the burgeoning field and to regional economic development.

Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering, which was established in 1998 as part of the Swanson School of Engineering, is ranked as one of the nation’s top bioengineering programs and has received millions of dollars to fund research for such advances as the development of a tiny cardiac-assist device for infants, a blood-treatment tool that can free patients from ventilator dependence, and materials that help generate bone. The department is home to 23 full-time faculty and more than 100 faculty holding secondary appointments. 

The Department of Bioengineering is currently developing a new Center for Medical Innovation (CMI), which will collaborate with the Coulter Translational Partnership Program to define early-stage, innovative medical technologies and to promote their commercialization. CMI also has an educational mission to develop the next generation of medical product innovators through the cooperative efforts of the Swanson Schools of Engineering, the Schools of the Health Sciences, Business, and Law.

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.

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