Two Pitt researchers make 'Scientific American 50' of leaders in science and technology

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 13 -- Two University of Pittsburgh researchers have been 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, Ph.D., and Michael Sacks, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and department of bioengineering, 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.

The Scientific American 50 appears in the magazine's December issue, which is available online at and will be on newsstands Nov. 21.

Dr. Wagner, deputy director of the McGowan Institute and associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and of chemical engineering and bioengineering, School of Engineering; and Dr. Sacks, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the department of bioengineering at Pitt's School of Engineering and director of McGowan's Engineered Tissue Mechanics Laboratory, have been collaborators 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 Dr. 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. Dr. 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," Drs. Wagner and Sacks are refining this technique to design tissues for a variety of applications that involve extensive motion and deformation.

Headlining this year's list of the Scientific American 50 are Angela Belcher, Ph.D., a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was selected Research Leader of the Year; global insurer Swiss Re of Zurich, Switzerland, selected Business Leader of the Year; and former Vice President Al Gore, recognized as Policy Leader of the Year for his work on global warming.


CONTACT: Karen Hoffmann, [email protected]
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The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine was established by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to realize the vast potential of tissue engineering and other techniques aimed at repairing damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Named for the late William G. McGowan, who was chief executive officer at MCI Communications when he underwent a successful heart transplant at UPMC in 1987, the McGowan Institute serves as a single base of operations for the University's leading scientists and clinical faculty working to develop tissue engineering, cellular therapies, biosurgery techniques and artificial and biohybrid organ devices.

For more information about the McGowan Institute's research programs and faculty, go to or visit for information of interest to patients and the general public.

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