Also part of the UPMC family:

Tissue Engineering Lab

Research Project Descriptions

Engineered soft tissue substitutes

While the implications of selectively manipulating fat tissue growth certainly include the treatment of obesity, there is a tremendous clinical utility for making fat grow. An ideal soft tissue substitute for reconstructive and aesthetic surgery has not yet been identified. Alloplastic implants are prone to complications such as extrusion, infection, and capsular contracture. Autologous fat transplantation will undergo resorption. Tissue flap reconstruction is effective in many cases, but still has inherent donor-site morbidity. A durable tissue engineered implant using a patient's own cells may represent a better clinical option.

Preadipocytes, the mesenchymal precursors to fat cells, are abundant within adipose tissue and can be harvested with low risk by minimally invasive procedures. These cells can be expanded in culture and induced to differentiate into mature adipocytes. The purpose of this study is to engineer a soft tissue implant using human preadipocytes seeded on a flexible three-dimensional framework and implanted in a model. Basement membrane proteins coated on the framework and suspended in hydrogels that fill the scaffold will be employed to promote adherence and proliferation of preadipocytes.

We hypothesize that a mesh biomaterial, folded in layers to form a three-dimensional scaffold and infiltrated with a biodegradable hydrogel containing basement membrane proteins, will promote the proliferation and differentiation of human preadipocytes when implanted in a model. This combination of a flexible framework and supportive microenvironment may create a viable and durable adipocyte implant.

As such, the goals of this project are to:

  1. Evaluate the adherence of human preadipocytes to several potentially useful biomaterial scaffolds, including poly(propylene) mesh and porcine small intestine submucosa (SIS).
  2. Investigate the capacity of preadipocytes to replicate and differentiate in vitro when seeded on these scaffolds.
  3. Elucidate the ability of human preadipocytes to replicate and differentiate in vitro when co-cultured with a biodegradable hydrogel containing basement membrane proteins.
  4. Determine the ability of human preadipocytes to generate mature adipose tissue when seeded on biomaterial scaffolds and implanted in a model.

Key Investigators: J. Peter Rubin, MD, Kacey G. Marra, PhD

Back to top


Current members of the Tissue Engineering Lab:

Natasa Miljkovic, MD, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Project: Controlled Drug Delivery from Tissue Engineered Scaffolds

Kia McLean, MD
Resident, Plastic Surgery
Project: Adipose-Derived Stem Cells for Wound Healing

Dan O'Donnell, BS
Research Associate III
Project: Adipose Tissue Engineering

Lauren Kokai, BS
Bioengineering Graduate Student (Pitt)
Project: Neuronal Differentiation of Adipose-Derived Stem Cells

Candace Brayfield, BS
Bioengineering Graduate Student (Pitt), co-advisor: Joerg Gerlach
Project: Directional Neurite Outgrowth within Fibers

Han Li, MD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Project: Adipose Stem Cell Biology

Kristin Gross, BS
Medical Student
Project: Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Osteogenesis

Chelsea Marsh
Undergraduate Student
Project: Osteogenesis of Adipose-Derived Stem Cells

Brittany Samms
Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative (PTEI) Intern
Project: Adipose-Derived Stem Cell Growth Factor Expression

Darren V. Smith
PTEI Intern
Project: 3D Neurite Expansion Model

Xander Nuttle
Undergraduate Student
Project: Osteochondral Defect Model

Back to top


The Tissue Engineering Research Laboratory consists of 1200 square feet of space in the Biomedical Science Tower. Included in the lab is one 4' chemical fume hood, three biological safety hoods, 4 incubators, 2 refrigerators, 1 freezer, as well as microscopes, balances, and standard glassware and supplies. Our laboratory has the capabilities to study protein expression via Western Blotting and RNA expression via Northern Blotting. The department of surgery contains several core facilities, including a sterilization facility, constant temperature and cold temperature rooms, DI/RO water purification system, and a labware washing facility, all located on our floor. The laboratory is equipped with small equipment suitable for all proposed cell biology and protein chemistry experiments. Additionally, we have access to the following (through our collaborators): flow cytometry, Instron, GPC, FT-IR, NMR, histology facilities, SEM, goniometer, and XPS.

Back to top

Contact Us

SaraBeth Probst
3550 Terrace Street
690 Scaife Hall
Pittsburgh, PA 15261
O: 412-648-9207
F: 412-383-9053

Back to top