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Carnegie Mellon hires researcher to boost biotechnology

Saturday, March 11, 2000

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

One of the nation's top researchers in bone tissue engineering will join Carnegie Mellon University's faculty and head a new center there as part of the school's effort to become a national name in biotechnology.

Jeffrey Hollinger helped pioneer a method of growing human bone. He works at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, where he is a professor of surgery, anatomy and developmental biology in its school of medicine.

School officials say Hollinger, 52, is the most significant hire so far in a plan disclosed by Carnegie Mellon in 1998 to develop niches in biotechnology, as it did with computers and robotics a generation ago. It wants to pair its know-how in computers and related fields with other institutions doing medical research.

Hollinger is set to begin his new job July 1.

Carnegie Mellon leaders say they believe Hollinger's recruitment will further efforts by their school and the University of Pittsburgh to form a joint venture in biotechnology. Initiatives that interest both schools range from creating images of the brain's cognitive functions to developing the capability to grow new tissues, bone and even human organs.

That potential link between both schools helped lure Hollinger from Oregon, said John Anderson, dean of the engineering college at Carnegie Mellon. Administrators at Carnegie Mellon have said they wanted to develop strength in the field more rapidly by recruiting established talent.

"We already have some researchers here who have initiated programs in tissue engineering. Jeff Hollinger puts us on another level because he can do animal studies and he has tremendous influence in the tissue engineering field nationally," Anderson said. "He is a central figure in tissue engineering conferences that are held nationally. He is definitely a national leader."

Arnold Caplan, director of the skeletal research center at Case Western Reserve University, agreed. He described Hollinger as "a real name" in a rapidly emerging field who can attract clever young researchers.

"This is a guy who has the potential to build a world-class operation around him," Caplan said. "It's a great hire."

At Carnegie Mellon, Hollinger will be the director of the Center for Bone Tissue Engineering, a new venture between the college of engineering, the college of science and Carnegie Mellon's robotics institute. It will occupy 2,400 square feet in Smith Hall and may eventually expand into Mellon Institute, Anderson said.

Hollinger also will be a professor of biology and a professor of biomedical and health engineering.

Reached by phone yesterday, Hollinger said two research areas he hopes to focus on at Carnegie Mellon include childhood skull deformities and problems with the skeletal muscular system of the elderly.

He said being in Pittsburgh will offer him more opportunity to work with others involved in tissue engineering.

"I think that just as steel was what helped build Pittsburgh in the 1900s, biotechnology is going to lift up Pittsburgh in the 21st century," Hollinger said. "It's one of the compelling reasons why I'm coming to Pittsburgh. I want to be part of the knowledge explosion."

Hollinger, a retired Army colonel with 20 years of active duty, has held research posts in the military, including director of the bone program for the U.S. Army Institute of Dental Research from 1982-1993.

He came to Oregon Health Sciences University in 1993.

Hollinger's interdisciplinary work is a reason he stands to be a natural fit for a place such as Carnegie Mellon, said Anthony DiGioia, an orthopedic surgeon at Shadyside Hospital and a senior research scientist at Carnegie Mellon's robotics institute.

"For what Jeff would like to do, he needs to be able to work with people who are biologists, who are engineers and people who are involved in biochemistry," he said.

DiGioia said Hollinger is one of the early investigators in an emerging field. "There is no doubt that he is one of the superstars," he said.

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