Dr. Phillippi is the UPMC Pellegrini Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery and Associate Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery with Tenure at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She serves as the Vice Chair for Cardiac Research and Director of Postdoctoral Research in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery. Dr. Phillippi holds a secondary faculty appointment in the Department of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering and is member faculty with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. She serves as Principal Investigator (PI) and Scientific Director of the Cardiac Research Laboratory.

Dr. Phillippi leads a research team of vasa vasorum enthusiasts with the goal of leveraging basic science discoveries in cell and matrix pathophysiology to develop less invasive and preventative treatments for cardiopulmonary diseases. Using a combination of in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo models, there is a focused interest on the role of perivascular progenitor cells, adventitial matrix biology, and pericytes in (patho)physiological vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, and tissue-engineered models of human cardiovascular disease. Most of her team's work leverages a human vascular tissue and cell bank comprised of over 1,000 unique patient specimens amassed through collaborative partnerships with cardiothoracic surgeons, specifically and most notably with her longstanding collaborator, Dr. Thomas Gleason. Dr. Phillippi is PI on an active NIH R01 award, a pending new R01 (percentile 11), a completed R56 award (2015-2016), and Co-I on an R01 award from NHLBI (2012-2018 and 2020-2025). She is PI on an active award from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health CURE Program (2021-2025). She has authored or co-authored 48 peer-reviewed original research articles, 4 review articles, and 4 perspectives and commentaries. Her publications have garnered >4000 citations with an h-index of 34 (Google Scholar). Dr. Phillipp's work in developing vascular extracellular matrix hydrogels led to issued patents in the United States (#11,406,736), Europe (#3402876), and Australia (#2017207015).

Dr. Phillippi is wholly committed to research mentoring of surgeon scientists, basic scientists, and bioengineers. She serves as the Co-Program Director for a new NHLBI-funded T32 program in Cardiothoracic Surgery Research Training aimed at training the next generation of academic cardiothoracic surgeon scientists as independent researchers and collaborators versed in team science. She has mentored or co-mentored 5 early career surgeon scientists and 6 PhD post-doctoral fellows, 35 undergraduates, and 15 high school students, many of whom continued in academic roles or were inspired to pursue advanced degrees.

Dr. Phillippi is a member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. She is an Associate Editor with Science Advances, of the Science family of Journals with AAAS (2014-present) and a reviewer for the journals Stem Cells, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Acta Biomaterialia, Cardiovascular Research, Journal of Biomechanics, Journal of Clinical Investigation-Insight, and several others. Dr. Phillippi is heavily involved with the International Society for Applied Cardiovascular Biology (ISACB), serving as the society's Secretary and a member of the Executive Council. She was the founding chair of the ISACB Webinar Committee and personally organized and moderated over 25 individual virtual events since 2014 featuring over 45 speakers. Dr. Phillippi also serves on the ISACB Women's Leadership Committee. She is a member of the Executive Committee for the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and chairs the Planning and Budgeting Committee for the School of Medicine. Dr. Phillippi is currently serving a 4-year term on the NIH Biomaterials and Biointerfaces Study Section as a chartered member and has previously served on review panels for the American Heart Association and other international entities.

Dr. Phillippi has dedicated her career to research at the intersection of cardiothoracic surgery, basic science, and bioengineering. This rich experience enables her to provide and practice strategies and formulae for success in forging and managing interdisciplinary research partnerships, finding joy, and thriving academically with trainees and faculty at all career levels.






Dr. Gleason is Professor of Bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also a senior cardiac surgeon with Asheville Heart in Asheville, North Carolina. Previously, Dr. Gleason was Professor of Surgery at the University of Maryland after having served as the Chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery and Co-Executive Director of the Heart & Vascular Center at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Prior to departing the University of Pittsburgh in 2020, Dr. Gleason was the Ronald V. Pellegrini Endowed Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Chief of the Division of Cardiac Surgery, Co-Director of the Heart and Vascular Institute, and Director of the Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC. Prior to his extensive role with the University of Pittsburgh/UPMC, he was an Assistant Professor of Surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Director, Thoracic Aortic Surgery Program at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Gleason is an expert in treating thoracic aortic diseases and has extensive clinical experience managing valvular heart disease, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation and end-stage heart and lung disease. His clinical research interests have included the development and refinement of novel valve therapies, most particularly, aortic valve repair strategies, and the management of aortic dissections with a distinct focus on neurocerebral malperfusion and neurologic outcomes. His longstanding basic science research mission has been devoted to the study of ascending aortopathies and aortic dissection, particularly those associated with congenital bicuspid aortic valve (BAV)—the most common phenotype seen among patients with ascending aortic aneurysmal disease. His research on BAV-associated aortopathy has been supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health since 2012.

Dr. Gleason currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and on the National Steering Committee for the STS/ACC TVT Registry. He is co-chair of the Research and Publications Committee for the TVT. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), the American Surgical Association (ASA), and the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS), and he is a fellow of the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST). He previously served as a permanent member of the Bioengineering, Technology and Surgical Sciences (BTSS) Study Section of the NIH Center for Scientific Review. Dr. Gleason has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications and delivered over 150 local, national, and international lectures and seminars.

Post Doctoral Fellows
Bryant is a PGY4 in the Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency at UPMC. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2019. Bryant began working in the Cardiac Research Laboratory as part of a summer research program. He has continued his work throughout medical school and into his post-doctoral career. He was recently awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32) to fund his ongoing projects in the lab. During his research time, he is also pursuing a PhD in Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Pittsburgh. Bryant has studied the molecular pathophysiology of thoracic aortic aneurysm with a focus on the vasa vasorum supplying the adventitial layer of the aorta. His main interests include the role of pericyte function in thoracic aortic disease as well as development of targeted regenerative biomaterials that induce angiogenesis and promote tissue remodeling.
Jen Hill is a Research Specialist in the laboratory. She received a Master's degree in Forensic Molecular Biology from George Washington University. Jen's expertise includes a range of molecular biology assays, including gene expression, genotyping, and sequencing. Her current projects in the lab involve investigating gene expression during spheroid formation/disruption, as well as the effect of decellularized ECM on spheroid formation, in adventitial pericytes; transcriptomic differences of pulmonary adventitial cells in lung failure patients; and dysregulation of calpain in smooth muscle cells from patients with bicuspid aortic valve.
Tara Richards is a Research Specialist in the laboratory. Tara completed her undergraduate training in biology and chemistry at Wheeling Jesuit University where she worked as a senior research technician. Her research experience includes angiogenesis and vascular biology, and her technical expertise includes immunofluorescent staining and imaging, multi-color flow cytometry, and microdissection. Tara is currently involved in a number of collaborative research projects.
Medical Students
Weijian Huang is a visiting medical student from Xiangya School of Medicine of Central South University, China. His current research project is focused on the pericyte phenotype and functional differences between thoracic aortic aneurysm and healthy patients.
Graduate Students
Jacob Ball is a Bioengineering PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Delaware. Jacob's interests lie in the intersection point between the cardiovascular system and immune rejection, and he specializes in tissue engineering. His current projects involve characterizing the effects of thoracic aortic aneurysm on pericyte function and identifying changes in endothelial progenitor cells in patients with lung failure.
Alayna Mikush is a Research Specialist in the laboratory. She is a recent earned in B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University with a minor in Biomedical Engineering. Alayna will be working on ex vivo perfusion-based dynamic culture models to study human thoracic aortic aneurysm.
Undergraduate Students
Harsheni is an undergraduate Public Health major at the University of Pittsburgh. She is part of the First Experiences in Research program and is looking at hypoxia signalling in healthy and diseased smooth muscle tissue.
Urmi is an undergraduate student majoring in bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She is currently working on optimizing pericyte spheroid formation on nanofiber scaffolds to better understand their role in thoracic aortic aneurysms.
Sakshi is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in molecular biology with minors in chemistry and economics. Sakshi works on assisting other lab personnel with preparing cell cultures, imaging, and staining specimens.
High School Students
Summer Students
Blessing is the 2023 Weigand intern with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Blessing's summer project focuses on comparing different decellularization strategies to modulate composition of aortic extracellular matrix biomaterials.
MariaElena is an undergraduate student majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Spanish at Trinity University, in San Antonio, Texas. She is currently studying the effects of hypoxia on smooth muscle cells derived from healthy and aneurysmal human aorta.
Dalia Fantini
Undergraduate Student
Jose Ricardo Aguilar Cosme, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Yoojin Lee, PHD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Kaitlyn Wintruba
Undergraduate Student
Marie Billaud, PHD
Research Assistant Professor
Patrick Chan, MD
Post Doctoral Fellow
Leonid Emerel, MD
Post Doctoral Fellow
Andreas Habertheuer, MD, PHD
Post Doctoral Fellow
Lauren Huckaby, MD
Medical Student
Amadeus Stern
2019 Wiegand Summer Intern
Aujah Thompson
High School Student
Sophia Yurkovetsky
High School Student
Sara Sanders
Undergraduate Student
Josh Schneider
Undergraduate Student
Rachel VanRyzin
Undergraduate Student
Zainab Hakeem
Undergraduate Student
Julia Kooser
Undergraduate Student
Julianna Buchwald
Undergraduate Student
McKenzie Hartman
Undergraduate Student
Paul VanRyzin
Undergraduate Student
George Fercana
Post-doctoral Fellow, 2015-2017
Roy Navid
High School Student, 2014-2015
Gabe Carrillo
Undergraduate Student
Sarah Duplaga
Undergraduate Student
Bradley Ellis
Undergraduate Student
Julia Gong
Undergraduate Student
Riley Herrmann
Undergraduate Student
Emily Mihalko
Undergraduate Student
Mary Kotlarczyk, PHD
AHA Post-doctoral Fellow, 2011-2014
Ben Green, MS
Research Specialist, 2010-2014
Edgar Bahena
High school student, Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience
Dana Townsend
High school student, Sci-Tech Academy Executive Experience
Jackie Birkness
Medical student, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Dean’s Undergraduate Summer Program, 2013
Trevor Weis
Undergraduate researcher, University of Pittsburgh
Filip Istvanic
PTEI Undergraduate Summer Research Experience
Jalice Shedrick
High school student, Doris Duke Summer Academy, UPCI
Michael Kormos
Undergraduate Summer Intern
Wei He, PhD
Post-doctoral Fellow
David Birsen
Undergraduate Summer Intern
Sameer Shakir
Medical Student, University of Pittsburgh
Chris Miller
PTEI Undergraduate Summer Research Experience
Dviya Raghu
High School Student
Team Photo
Thoracic Aortic Research Lab Group Yoga


Updated 22-Mar-2023