UPMC, Pitt Experts Receive Carnegie Science Awards

By: Anita Srikameswaran, Andr??a Stanford and Chuck Finder

UPMC and Pitt Schools of the Health Sciences experts in psychiatry, rehabilitation science and regenerative medicine are among the 17 recently named recipients of the Carnegie Science Awards.
The winners include Steven R. Little, Ph.D., and David Vorp, Ph.D., of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the University of Pittsburgh/UPMC McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; Nancy Minshew, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the School of Medicine, and graduate student Elaine Houston, of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Houston, who received the University/Post-Secondary Student Award, works on the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA) team under Rory Cooper, Ph.D., at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories in Bakery Square.
“For somebody with a spinal cord injury, it’s very challenging to control a (robotic) system,” said Houston, who works on interfaces to allow people with spinal cord injury to operate certain robotics. “I’ve been involved for about 2½ years now, but this project has been going on for about 5 years.”
She spends most of her fall weekends with the Lego ® League competition, coaching two teams of kids who are 9 to 14 years old.
“It’s been a lot of fun to play around with the robots and with kids,” Houston said. “What’s unique about the teams we have compared to all the other teams in Pittsburgh [is that] we’re very focused on students with disabilities. They might not be on a team anywhere else. This is a really good chance to get kids with disabilities into the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields and getting them excited. Just because they have disabilities doesn’t mean they can’t be in STEM or do what they want to do. “

Steven R. Little, Ph.D.
Dr. Little, associate professor and chair of the chemical and petroleum engineering department at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and who is affiliated with the McGowan Intsitute for Regenerative Medicine, received the Carnegie Science Center’s University/Post-Secondary Educator Award. In addition to teaching courses in the fields of chemical engineering transport phenomena and drug delivery, Dr. Little has 20 to 25 undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students working in his lab on biomimetics, which intends to make synthetic systems replicate biological function.
“As just one example, we have a large number of students working on projects where we are mimicking the same kind of signals in the body that recruit immune system cells that can reduce inflammation,” he said. “That could help reduce rejection of organ transplants, for example. When teaching, I encourage students to try to work on problems that matter, and to try to apply what they have been learning to real-life problems.”
Dr. Vorp’s work with tissue-engineered replacement blood vessels won him the Life Sciences Award. Dr. Minshew, director of Pitt’s Center for Excellence in Autism Research, is the recipient of the Catalyst Award.
The awards will be presented at a ceremony May 30 at the Carnegie Music Hall.