Two Pitt Researchers Make the Scientific American 50 List of Leaders in Science and Technology

Issue Date: 
January 22, 2007

Two Pitt researchers were selected by the Board of Editors of Scientific American magazine to its list of Scientific American 50 for 2006. The award recognizes research, business, and policy leaders who have played a critical role driving key science and technology trends in the last year.

William R. Wagner and Michael Sacks in Pitt’s Department of Bioengineering and McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine were recognized for their research that has enabled the development of a novel biodegradable polymer-based scaffold that could one day serve as a tissue-engineered replacement for damaged pulmonary valves and other soft tissues.

Wagner is a professor of surgery in Pitt’s School of Medicine and of chemical engineering and bioengineering in the School of Engineering; he also serves as deputy director of the McGowan Institute. Sacks is the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the engineering school’s bioengineering department and director of the McGowan Institute’s Engineered Tissue Mechanics Laboratory. The two men have collaborated for more than five years on a number of projects involving biomaterials and tissue mechanics. But it was their work developing and characterizing elastic polymer scaffolds loaded with cells that caught the attention of Scientific American.

Researchers in Wagner’s laboratory developed a method using strong electrical fields to combine cells and polymer nanofibers that rapidly form elastic tissue-like scaffolds. The technique can place cells within fiber networks at the same scale found within the body’s own tissue. Sacks’ laboratory has characterized and modeled the function of these tissue scaffolds and demonstrated how they mimic the complex behavior of a human pulmonary valve.

Through their collaboration, which they describe as “highly synergistic,” Wagner and Sacks are refining this technique to design tissues for a variety of applications that involve extensive motion and deformation.

The Scientific American 50 was published in the magazine’s December issue.