PITTSBURGH (March 19, 2019) … Bryan Brown, assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and Alexis Nolfi, a graduate student researcher in Brown’s lab, were recognized by the Carnegie Science Awards, announced on March 13 by the Carnegie Science Center. Brown received an honorable mention for the for the Post-secondary Educator Award, and Nolfi received an honorable mention for the College/University Student Award.
The Post-secondary Educator Award recognizes educators for innovation and impact in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, including: inspiring students to understand, appreciate, and apply science, technology, engineering, or math; and strengthening the teaching profession through the spread of innovative practices.
Brown, who joined the Department of Bioengineering in 2011, has mentored two visiting scholars/junior faculty, four post-doctoral fellows, nine PhD students, and one MS student. He has taught three distinct courses, with a total of 13 course offerings. He is also a member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he serves as the Director of Educational Outreach.
In July 2014, Brown organized and launched the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine Summer School, a hands-on experiential learning program that aims to provide regional, national, and international students an opportunity to explore the multidisciplinary field of regenerative medicine. Through lectures and laboratory experiences, undergraduate students have the opportunity to interact with more than 20 faculty members from across the University. A goal for this program is to recruit students from underrepresented backgrounds, including those from universities that lack significant bioengineering and/or regenerative medicine programs.
“We want to reach a diverse audience of students and help them develop a better understanding of the field and career options within regenerative medicine,” said Brown.
In addition to the summer camp, Brown also started a course on regenerative medicine through the Carnegie Mellon University Osher Center for Lifelong Learning. “The Osher course, which continues to be well attended every semester, targets continuing learners and is intended to make the possibilities of regenerative medicine understandable to a lay population,” said Brown.
“Dr. Brown’s educational outreach efforts have improved awareness and understanding of the University’s world class regenerative medicine efforts,” said Sanjeev Shroff, Distinguished Professor and Gerald E. McGinnis Chair of Bioengineering. “His work with our graduate students and the McGowan Institute Summer School helps to build the nascent careers of future engineers and innovators.”
The student award recognizes an individual working towards a degree in a STEM field, for impact and innovation: preparing youth to consider career opportunities in STEM fields and pursuing research that contributes to the societal or economic well-being of the region.
Nolfi is involved in numerous projects centered on how the immune system is involved in the pathogenesis of disease and how we can modify immune response to biomaterials and with biomaterials-based approaches. Much of her work has a distinct focus in women’s health applications, including a polypropylene mesh often used in pelvic surgery and a novel ovarian hydrogel that could one day be used to generate a tissue-appropriate model of endometriosis.
“Since joining Dr. Brown’s lab, I have realized that the immune system is really at the core of most disease processes,” said Nolfi. “It’s not that we are trying to ‘turn off’ the immune response to biomaterials or in disease; rather, we are trying to harness and modify this response so that we can engage the body to help us generate better outcomes.
“This research is incredibly important to me - aside from having a vested interest in women’s health initiatives, the field of basic science research in women’s health topics is underserved by the biomaterials and regenerative medicine community,” continued Nolfi. “This research helps to shine light on topics deserving of more attention, and the experimental findings and developments will be applicable to not only biomaterials-based urogynecologic applications, but also to furthering advancement of other biomaterial and immunology-based fields.”
Contact: Leah Russell