My name is Grace Figlioli and I am a rising senior at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. I am majoring in Bioengineering with a minor in Sociology and a concentration in Medical Product Engineering. I am originally from Haddonfield, New Jersey, which is about fifteen minutes from Philadelphia. Growing up so close to a major city with world-renowned hospitals just minutes away has motivated me to pursue a career involved in both medicine and innovation. At Pitt, I currently serve as an Academic and Career Enhancement Mentor where I coach engineering students through academic setbacks and help them foster the skills they need to succeed as future engineers. In addition, I work as a Math Tutor at Pitt to help other college students master complex mathematical problems.
I am extremely excited to be a part of the Brackenridge Community. This summer, I hope to strengthen my communication skills and learn how to effectively present my research findings to a broad audience. I also hope to learn more about the other fellows in the community and their diverse backgrounds.
My Research Project
For my project, I am working in the Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation and Mircosurgery (VCAM) Laboratory to help quantify vasculature in tissue engineered free flaps (TEFF). My mentor, Dr. Mario Solari, is a board certified plastic surgeon and an assistant professor in the department of Plastic Surgery within the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine.
With millions of reconstructive surgeries being performed every year, there is an increased need to restore anatomical features more effectively. Autologous free flaps have become a unique solution for providing coverage and protection to exposed critical structures such as blood vessels, bone, and tendons. By definition, a vascularized tissue flap consists of a segment of tissue and its blood supply. For reconstructive purposes, a free flap can be surgically removed and transferred from one location of an individual’s body to the site of injury. Due to the finite amount of viable tissue on an individual’s body, there are serious limitations regarding the use of autologous free flaps.
As a result, the VCAM laboratory has shifted the focus on creating an allograft-based free flap which can be decellularized and recellularized to eliminate immunological reactions and donor site morbidities in the patient. Examining and quantifying the vasculature in tissue engineered free flaps will provide researchers and clinicians with a better understanding of blood vessels in a localized vascular network and reveal network intricacies. The results have the potential to improve reconstructive surgeries and provide clinicians with a more effective method to preserve vasculature.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Brackenridge Fellowship. I am looking forward to connecting with the other fellows, learning new skills, and sharing my progress over the next few months.