The $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law on February 17, 2009, by President Obama in order to combat current economic challenges. A significant portion of this funding is being dedicated to expanding support for basic and applied research at research institutions across the country. For example, the research programs of two McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty members Stephen Strom, PhD (pictured left), professor in the division of cellular and molecular pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, and Peter Wearden, MD, PhD (pictured right), cardiothoracic surgeon and director of pediatric mechanical cardiopulmonary support at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, are receiving economic stimulus money funding boosts for their work in liver generation by using human cells and the development of a pediatric heart assist device, respectively. This funding will greatly benefit the local community through job creation and retention and will allow for pioneering research work to be performed across a broad range of investigation.
Dr. Strom’s project, “Mice Humanized with Hepatocytes and iPS Cells from Patients with Metabolic Disease,” will receive almost $1 million in funding through July 2011. Dr. Strom is exuberant over the federal economic stimulus money. “This is huge for us,” said Dr. Strom, who has found a way to generate livers in mice by using human cells. “We’re all delighted. It’s an idea that’s almost science fiction, and it’s hard to get that funded.”
Dr. Wearden’s project, “Development of the PediaFlow Pediatric Ventricular Assist Device (PVAD),” will receive more than $1 million in funding through August 2011. This funding will keep together a core team of researchers who have been working for several years on a mechanical heart for infants. Their experiments have allowed the device to be shrunk to about the size of a double A battery from thumb-size as their understanding of blood dynamics has increased.
Salaries will be the biggest cost for the work, which will run around $200,000. Without the funding, some key people would have to be furloughed. “We would probably have to let post-doc fellows go,” Dr. Wearden said. “Three or four people would lose their jobs.”
The development of a PVAD is underway to help the thousands of infants and children who die from perioperative ventricular failure annually. Currently in the early-prototype stage, the goal of the PVAD project is to soon reach animal testing.
The main objective of the PVAD Consortium (the University of Pittsburgh and its collaborators) is to develop a centrifugal pump using a magnetically levitated impeller capable of providing left, right, or bi-ventricular circulatory support for children 4 –15 kg in weight (from birth to approximately 2 yrs old). The PVAD can be used for a period of up to 6 months. By leveraging existing technology developed by Medquest, Inc. and LaunchPoint Technologies, the new PVAD Consortium will apply their existing magnetic levitation technology to create a small pediatric-sized heart pump.
The specific objectives for the PediaFlow are as follows:
- Maximize flow-related biocompatibility through Computational Fluid Dynamic optimizations incorporating blood cell damage and activation models,
- Develop a series of ventricular cannulae that adapt to the diversity of anatomic malformations often associated with congenital heart disease,
- Develop a robust pump controller providing self-regulating hemodynamic control, fail-safe operations, automatic restart capability, and on-demand assessment of patient cardiac status.
The primary obstacle in producing an implanted heart assist device for infants is the miniature size of such a pump. The smallest blood pump device on the market is too large to be implanted into petite adults, much less small children. Even the most advanced adult-sized VADs have mechanical parts that wear out after a few years, limiting their long-term effectiveness. The team’s magnetically-levitated miniature pump design will work towards overcoming both of these obstacles.
In addition to Dr. Wearden’s research program being in receipt of additional funding, another program he leads--the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) program at Children’s--recently received accolades from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO). Children’s ECMO program receives patients from throughout the world for Children's cardiothoracic transplantation expertise. Children’s Hospital is one of a select group of centers in the world to be honored with an “Excellence in Life Support Award” from the ELSO, an international consortium of centers offering ECMO for support of failing organ systems in infants, children, and adults. Since the ECMO program at Children’s Hospital supported its first patient with ECMO in 1979, it has progressed to one of the nation’s leading ECMO centers, supporting nearly 45 patients a year.
ECMO is one of the most advanced forms of life support available to patients experiencing acute failure of the cardio-respiratory system. ECMO allows time for the patient’s lungs and/or heart to heal by using a heart-lung machine to oxygenate and purify the blood outside the body over a period of time.
The ELSO award recognizes centers that demonstrate exceptional commitment to evidence-based processes and quality measures, staff training and continuing education, patient satisfaction, and ongoing clinical research. Children’s Hospital is one of only 55 centers in the world to receive this award since ELSO’s inception in 2006.
“Children’s Hospital has grown into one of the leading pediatric centers in the world for patients in need of life-saving heart or lung transplants. However, patients in heart or lung failure can be too sick to undergo transplantation, which is when ECMO can become crucial to their survival,” said Dr. Wearden. “Children’s Hospital was one of the early pioneers in the use of ECMO, and this recognition is a testament to our team’s contributions to improvements in the use of ECMO, particularly for children in need of life-saving mechanical support.”
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Pittsburgh Business Times (10/09/09)
LaunchPoint Technologies PediaFlow PF3 VAD
University of Pittsburgh ARRA Awards
UPMC Media Relations (10/12/09)
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Press Release (10/12/09)
Bio: Dr. Stephen Strom
Bio: Dr. Peter Wearden