Recent Achievements

The University's First Bioprinter

By Maggie Hays

Dr Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari

Dr. Angela Panoskaltsis-Mortari, professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Minnesota, recently received the gift of a lifetime — a new bioprinter, one of 20 worldwide distributed by a company called BioBots.

“I was just ecstatic because I had been wanting one for years,” she said.

What, exactly, is a bioprinter, and why is she so excited about it? Essentially, this machine — which is still in the experimental phase — allows her to explore the potential of one day being able to “print out” spare body parts such as ears or muscle fibers (and possibly complex organs like lungs or livers) for transplants.

The bioprinter is also used to create more relevant three-dimensional tissue models to test cell behavior and drugs without having to use a whole animal, bringing in a different complexity and sophistication to the analysis of drugs.

Panoskaltsis-Mortari’s work with the bioprinter places her at the forefront of research that could transform transplant medicine, drug testing, burn therapy and many other fields of health care. It’s the first such device at the university, and she hopes that eventually it can anchor a campus-wide lab for everyone who is interested in using it.

“I received a lot of inquiries from many investigators on campus for how they could use it,” she added.

She’s planning to use the bioprinter on her own project this year, which involves printing a piece of an esophagus that she will be able to sew into a pig. Her goal with this project is to create an alternative to what surgeons currently do to repair esophagi, which is to insert hollow tubes, or “stents,” through a complex surgical procedure.

Panoskaltsis-Mortari and her colleagues are also using the machine to test different types of “bio-ink” in order to determine which ones are most compatible with different cells. Bioprinted components can be completely personalized by using a patient’s specific dimensions and customizing the bio-ink using cells from their own body.

Bioprinters have already been used to print biodegradable materials. Panoskaltsis-Mortari cited a recent case where a device was used to print a trachea and bronchus stent. It was then transplanted to a young patient with a collapsed trachea. Over the next couple of years, the body absorbed the material as the patient’s trachea built itself up.

Though bioprinting is still in its early stages and has been successful at building supportive stents for living tissue and organs, Panosklatsis-Mortari predicts printing entire softer-tissue organs, particularly those with hollow tube-like structures like blood vessels, in the near future. Bones, tendons, teeth, cartilage, ligaments and skin are most imminent, probably within the next two years, she said.

However, there’s still a long way to go before researchers begin creating kidneys and hearts with just the push of a button. Complex, solid organs like lungs and livers are difficult to integrate into existing networks of blood vessels and nerves.

Printing entire limbs and organs also appears to be many years off right now, but people are working hard to reach that goal sooner. A group at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, for instance, is printing small blocks of organs and putting the blocks together like Legos. And they’re printing small cell packets and merging them together to create organs in order to test drugs.

It’s a small step toward the dream of being able to print entire organs for transplants. Yet even today, bioprinting can revolutionize medicine.

“To me, bioprinting is a game-changer for medical research,” she said. “The promises it holds for personalized medicine are just really exciting for us and open up new potential for a lot more interdisciplinary interaction, which lead to new discoveries. Even if we never print an entire organ for transplant, people are already using 3-D bioprinting.”

Organ Donation, A Second Chance for Life

Lung Transplant Recipient Honors Her Donor For The Gift Of Life. 

A National Hotspot for Lung Transplants

By Todd Wilson (1/30/2015)

Surgical Room

The University of Minnesota is becoming a national hot spot for lung transplants. Dr. Gabriel Loor is one of the surgeons responsible for the growth in lung transplants. He feels he does his best work in an operating room. "I love being able to touch a patient’s life with our hands," he said. Loor's passion for his job has helped the University of Minnesota's Health Lung Transplant Program see a record year. "Last year we did 52 transplants, and the year before that 40, and the year before we did 26," Loor said. He says there are three reasons for the program’s success: the hiring of more surgeons, a screening program that reviews all donor offers 24/7 to make sure there's no offer being missed, and a machine called the "Breathing Lung Concept." "The breathing lung program started about 1 1/2 years ago,” Loor said. “About a year ago, we did the first one in the Midwest.” The ground-breaking technology allows a transplanted lung to continue breathing as it's moved from donor to recipient. Loor says the first patient did great and so did the next 13 who had access to the device. In total, 27 patients were enrolled in that trial. "In the Midwest, we're the second-highest volume lung transplant program in the Midwest, and in the country, we're among the top five transplant programs by way of volume," Loor said. The Miami native says his desire to be in the medical field began in his last year of high school; he loved science class. Today, he says there's no greater feeling than seeing a patient survive and thrive after surgery. "It's an amazing satisfaction, and it's something they can't prepare you for in training," Loor said. Dr. Loor says about 30 medical professionals are involved in one transplant.

Helping China Solve Serious Air Pollution

Dr. Marshall Hertz, Professor was among a group of experts lead by President Eric Kaler, Ph.D to meet in China to work with colleagues at the Institute of Earth Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to address the heath effects of this pollution. China has seen a huge increase in pollution over the last several years, largely because of rapid economic and industrial development.

Read the University of Minnesota Foundation blog post

Mesothelioma Study Report

Dr. David Perlman, Assistant Professor and Pulmonologist in the Department of Medicine presented a final report on the Taconite Workers Health Study in Hibbing, MN to former miners and local legislators. Click here for the full story.

Forrest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award

John Mirini accepting the Forrest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award

John J. Marini, MD, Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Division and Regions Hospital) is the recipient of the Forrest M. Bird Lifetime Scientific Achievement Award from the American Association of Respiratory Care. The award was conferred at the opening ceremony of the 60th Annual AARC Meeting on December 9, 2014 in Las Vegas. "This award was established in 1983 to acknowledge outstanding individual scientific contributions in the area of respiratory care of cardiopulmonary disorders with a grant from Dr. Forrest M. Bird, MD, PhD, ScD. Dr. Bird is the founder of Bird Products Corporation, a manufacturer of respiratory care equipment."

Past awardees have included international leaders in pulmonary and critical care medicine and in public health, including C. Everett Koop MD, former US Surgeon-General.

Clinical Excellence Award

Maneesh Bhargava, MD, MS, Department of Medicine, received the Clinical Excellence Award in recognition of effort on behalf of patients and recognized by colleagues. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!

Top Doctors

151 of the University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP) have been named 2013 Top Doctors by Mpls St. Paul magazine. They represent 41 specialties and make up 25% of the overall list. Within the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine we have 4 top doctors represented.

  • Joanne L. Billings, MD
  • Jordan M. Dunitz, MD
  • Marshall I. Hertz, MD
  • Hyun Joo Kim, MD

In addition, 42 of our physicians in 18 specialties and subspecialties have been recognized as Top Doctors for Women in 2013 by Minnesota Monthly magazine.

A Procedure to Help you Manage Severe Asthma

H. Erhan Dincer, MD
If you suffer from severe asthma, you may find relief in a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty, available at our Endoscopy Department. The procedure can reduce asthma attacks, hospitalizations and visits to the Emergency Department. Bronchial thermoplasty can help you control your asthma and improve your quality of life.

Bronchial thermoplasty is the first non-drug therapy that the Food and Drug Administration has approved for severe asthma. Pulmonologist H. Erhan Dincer performed the first bronchial thermoplasty in Minnesota (not under a research protocol) at University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.