Regenerative Medicine Biographies

Course Directors

Dr. Rory A. Cooper

Distinguished Professor, FISA/PVA Chair, Department of Rehabilitation and Technology, University of Pittsburgh 
Director, Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence fore Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering
Pittsburgh, PA

Contact Information
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
6425 Penn Avenue, Suite 400
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
(412) 822-3700 

Rory A. Cooper, PhD received the BS and MEng degrees in electrical engineering for California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 1985 and 1986, respectively. He received the Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara in 1989. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Mechanical Engineering, Physical Medicine & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence in Pittsburgh. He is also the Co-Director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, a joint effort between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.

He is the Editor of the journal Assistive Technology and the AT Research Book Series of IOS Press. Dr. Cooper serves or has served on the editorial boards of several prominent peer-reviewed journals in the fields of rehabilitation and bioengineering. He has received multiple prestigious awards to include the Olin Teague Award, Paul Magnuson Award, U.S. Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, James Peters Award, Maxwell J. Schleifer Award,DaVinci Lifetime Achievement Award, Veteran’s Leadership Program Veteran of the Year, and a member of the inaugural class of the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame. Dr. Cooper has authored or co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed journal publications. He has ten patents awarded or pending. Dr. Cooper is the author of two books: Rehabilitation Engineering Applied to Mobility and Manipulation and Wheelchair Selection and Configuration, and co-editor of An Introduction to Rehabilitation Engineering, Care of the Combat Amputee, and the Warrior Transition Leader Medical Rehabilitation Handbook. Dr. Cooper is an elected Fellow of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES). Dr. Cooper has been an invited lecturer at many institutions around the world, for example the National Academies of Sciences Distinctive Voices Lecture, and was awarded Honorary Professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and Xi’an Jiatong University. He has also been elected to Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi, and Sigma Xi honorary societies.   

Dr. Cooper is a former President of RESNA, and a member of the RESNA/ANSI and ISO Wheelchair Standards Committees, and IEEE-EMBS Medical Device Standards Committee. In 1988, he was a bronze medalist in the Paralympic Games, Seoul, Republic of Korea. He was on the steering committee for the 1996 Paralympic Scientific Congress held in Atlanta, GA, and the Sports Scientist for the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team in Beijing, China. In 2009, Dr. Cooper was featured on a Cheerios cereal box for his many achievements. He has been a member of theU.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – Medicare Advisory Committee, Steering Committee of the Academy of PM&R on Research Capacity Building. and Chair of the National Advisory Board on Medical Rehabilitation Research, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, and National Academy of Sciences Keck Foundation Initiative on Human Health Span Steering Committee. Dr. Cooper is a U.S. Army veteran with a spinal cord injury and a Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Research Foundation. He currently serves as a member of the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Prosthetics & Special Disability Programs Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of Defense Health Board Subcommittee on Amputation and Orthopedics, and the Board of Directors of Easter Seals. Dr. Cooper has actively collaborated with the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre on increasing access to quality services and devices for people with disabilities in India and throughout developing countries.

COL Paul F. Pasquina


Colonel (RET), U.S. Army Medical Corps
Residency Director and Chair, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation  
Director, Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Contact Information
Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
8901 Wisconsin Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20889


Paul F. Pasquina, M.D. is the Residency Director and Chair, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Director of the Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.  Dr. Pasquina retired from the United States Army Medical Corps in 2012 as Chief of the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Director of the Center for Rehabilitation Sciences Research (CRSR) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).   He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and USUHS.  In addition to being board certified in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R), he is also board certified in Electrodiagnostic Medicine and Pain Medicine.  He completed a fellowship in sports medicine and remains interested in all aspects of musculoskeletal medicine especially as it applies to individuals with disabilities.  He is the specialty consultant to the Army Surgeon General for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and a Secretarial appointee on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee for Prosthetics and Special Disabilities Programs.  Dr. Pasquina has authored multiple book chapters, journal articles and policy papers.  He has served as the PM&R Residency Program Director and Medical Advisor to the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command for quality healthcare. He has received multiple military awards, as well as awards for teaching and mentorship, including the U.S. Army’s “A” Proficiency Designation for academic excellence, the Order of Military Medical Merit, and Honorary Fellow of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA).

Guest Faculty

Fabrisia Ambrosio

Faculty, Departments of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Physical Therapy, Orthopaedic Surgery Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
University of Pittsburgh│McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine




Dr. Fabrisia Ambrosio is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds secondary appointments in the Departments of Physical Therapy, Orthopaedic Surgery, and Microbiology &Molecular Genetics. In addition, she is a Department of Physical Therapy Faculty Member of the Neurology Residency Program.

Dr. Ambrosio graduated with a Master of Science in Physiology-Endocrinology with a specialization in skeletal muscle physiology from Laval University in Québec City, Québec. She also graduated with a Master of Physical Therapy from the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 2005, Dr. Ambrosio completed her PhD in Rehabilitation Science & Technology from the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Ambrosio's research has the long-term goal of developing Regenerative Rehabilitation approaches to improve the skeletal muscle healing and functional recovery. Her laboratory uses murine and human models to investigate the underlying mechanisms by which targeted and specific mechanotransductive signals can be used to enhance donor and/or host stem cell functionality. Dr. Ambrosio's research has been supported by the NIH, the DOD, the Foundation for Physical Therapy, the Claude D. Pepper Older American's Independence Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Institute on Aging. In 2006, she was awarded a Scholar's position within the K12 Comprehensive Opportunities in Rehabilitation Research Training program. In 2011, she was awarded a K01 Career Development Award from the National Institute on Aging of the NIH.

Dr. Ambrosio has been a reviewer for Muscle & NerveArchives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Plos One, among others. She has published and recorded several educational modules on the topic of Regenerative Rehabilitation and has assumed national leadership roles in several work group efforts to promote the integration of regenerative medicine technologies with rehabilitation approaches.

In 2012, Dr. Ambrosio was named the Sabrina Cohen Foundation for Stem Cell Research “CELLebrity Doctor.” In 2013, Drexel University recognized her contributions to the field of rehabilitation by publishing “Alumna profile: Dr. Fabrisia Ambrosio Combines Passions for Physical Therapy and Regenerative Medicine.” Also that same year, she was named Foundation for Physical Therapy’s “Researcher of the Month” and was also featured with a PT in Motion magazine cover article featured investigator: “A Growing Concern. Regenerative Medicine: A key to tomorrow’s rehabilitation.”

Roy D. Bloebaum

Director, Bone & Joint Research Laboratory
Department of Veterans Affairs  
George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center





As the director of Bone and Joint Laboratory over the past 27 years, Dr. Bloebaum has been lead- or co-author on over 140 papers on clinically related and translational work. His personal goal is to safely introduce osseointegrated implants (OI) for Veterans and warfighters with limb loss over the next five years. Under Dr. Bloebaum’s direction, the Bone and Joint Research Lab was established in 1987. The mission statement of this lab is to “contribute knowledge to the advancement of Orthopaedic, clinical and basic sciences through hypothesis-driven basic and translational research programs, providing education programs for patients, clinical care providers, fellows, researchers, and students, which will lead to improved clinical treatments and VA patient care.”  Accordingly, over the past 27 years,

Dr. Bloebaum has successfully managed over 14 major VA, NIH and DOD grants, 25 graduate students, 10 residents, 5 post doctorate fellows, 45 medical students and 36 undergraduate students.  He has collaborated with 11 VA physicians. Dr. Bloebaum has over 30 years experience in establishing implant design criteria for implant attachment to the bone.  This work has received national and international awards.  The lab is one of the few in the world capable of processing large implants in tissue without disturbing the interface.  These are essential skills to assess the skin and bone response to the presence of an implant.

Octavia "Tae" Harris

Command Master Chief, United States Navy (ret.)
Program Manager
Naval Medical Center, San Diego, CA



Octavia Harris was born in Long Island City, New York. She graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1982 and reported to Recruit Training Command in Orlando, Florida in September 1982, then graduated from YN “A” school.

Master Chief Harris’ initial assignment was onboard Helicopter Training Squadron EIGHTEEN home ported in Milton, Florida in November 1982. Her other assignments included Training Squadron THREE, Milton, Florida, Patrol Squadron FIVE, Jacksonville, Florida, Fleet Pensacola, Florida, USS NIMITZ (CVN 68), Bremerton, WA, and Space and Composite Squadron TEN, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, Naval Technical Training Center, Naval Warfare Systems Command, San Diego, California as S.E.L. to SPAWAR’s Fleet Installations Director. There she was selected as the 2000 San Diego Navy League Senior Enlisted Woman of the Year for her leadership and volunteerism in the healthcare community.  In October 2002 she reported to Commander, Amphibious Squadron ONE as Department Head and Command Senior Chief. The Staff was embarked in USS BOXER (LHD 4) and led 7 Amphibious Warships in direct support of OEF/OIF and also embarked in USS TARAWA (LHA 1) for RIMPAC and continued support of the Global War on Terrorism. Her exceptional leadership, led to her selection as Lead Yeoman Detailer, Navy Personnel Command, Millington, TN.  There she advanced to Master Chief Petty Officer and subsequently Command Master Chief where she led in USS PINCKNEY (DDG 91), an Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer deploying to South China Sea, Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, and Persian Gulf areas of responsibilities for combat and humanitarian operations.  Her final tour of duty was selection from Rear Admiral Patrick Brady as Command Master Chief, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command were she led the Wounded Warrior Hiring and Support events for the West Coast. 

Octavia is currently Program Manager, Comprehensive Advanced Restorative Effort (CARE) for traumatically injured service men and women (including Wounded Warriors), dependents and retirees at Naval Medical Center, San Diego.

She is an Honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Senior Enlisted Academy, and earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Healthcare Administration from National University and Master of Science Degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas with an emphasis in Safety and Healthcare Management.

LTC Leon J. Nesti

Assistant Professor, Uniformed Services University
Hand and Upper Extremity Reconstructive Surgeon
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Chief, Clinical and Experimental Orthopaedics
National Institute of Arthritis, and Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health



Dr. Leon J. Nesti received his BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point, later earning his MD/PhD from Thomas Jefferson University in 2002.  After completing his Orthopaedic Surgery residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dr. Nesti continued his subspecialty training in Hand and Upper Extremity Reconstructive Surgery in the combined Walter Reed/Curtis National Hand Center program.  

Since then, Dr. Nesti has concurrently preformed duties as the Chief of the Orthopaedic Research Group at the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and a Hand and Upper Extremity Reconstructive surgeon at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His clinical responsibilities include providing Upper Extremity care to Military Healthcare System beneficiaries in the National Capital Area and surgical support for the Peripheral Nerve Clinic at Walter Reed.  

Dr. Nesti also serves as the Upper Extremity consultant for the United States Military Academy and its athletic teams and is an active participant in the Army's PROFIS system and recently returned from Afghanistan where he served as a FST Orthopaedic Surgeon.

Bryan J. Pfister

Associate Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Center for Injury Biomechanics, Materials and Medicine
New Jersey Institute of Technology



Dr. Bryan Pfister received his BS from Clarkson University, earned his PhD in Material Science and Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2002 and did his post doctoral study in the Department of Neurosurgery, University of Pennsylvania.  Bryan joined the New Jersey Institute of Technology Biomedical Engineering Department in January 2006 where he helped establish the Center for Injury Biomechanics, Materials and Medicine, New Jersey’s first Research Center focused on Nervous system injury and repair.

Dr. Pfister’s research encompasses how mechanical forces affect the nervous system – spanning from stretch induced growth during development to axonal stretch injury in traumatic brain injuries.  In his first year at NJIT, he won the first grant awarded by the newly formed New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research.  In 2008 he received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation.  He is currently the lead principle investigator on a $1.6M multi-investigator grant from the New Jersey Commission on Brain Injury Research with collaboration at NJ Medical School and the VA Hospital in East Orange.   

Our lab uses a tissue engineering method to rapidly elongate nerve fibers by mimicking an extremely rapid form of nervous system growth that occurs during an organism’s development; growth rates reaching at least 10mm/day, producing large axon fascicles 10cm in length. This is in dramatic contrast to the 1mm/day rate on average that nerves can grow in the absence of stretching forces. We are exploring the mechanotransduction of unknown neurobiological mechanisms and cellular processes that accommodate extreme rates of axon stretch growth to provide novel targets that can be used to enhance nervous system regeneration.  We are also working to combine our knowledge of axon growth with engineering design and biomaterial science to develop new approaches to nervous system repair.

Beyond research, his commitment to teaching earned him the 2009 Educator of the Year Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies of NJ.  Bryan continues to provide research with design experiences at the undergraduate level.  He has established a Research Experiences for Undergraduates program on Neural Engineering funded by the National Science Foundation that brings 10 students from across the country into research labs each summer.

Ron Poropatich

Executive Director
Center for Military Medicine│Health Sciences
University of Pittsburgh



Dr. Ronald Poropatich, is an experienced Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine physician who served 34 years on active duty in the U.S. Army with extended assignments at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD (formerly the Walter Reed Army Medical Center – WRAMC, Washington, DC) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), Fort Detrick, MD. 

Dr. Poropatich received his medical degree from Hahnemann University in 1985 (now Drexel University). He completed his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in 1988 and was selected as Chief of Medical Residents in the WRAMC Department of Medicine from 1988-1989, serving as a key educator with direct supervision of 45 house officers. He completed his fellowships in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in 1992 also at the WRAMC.

Since 2009, Dr. Poropatich has been a Professor of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science (USUHS), Bethesda, MD where he maintains his appointment and regularly teaches and interviews prospective candidates for medical school. In 2012, Dr. Poropatich retired from the U.S. Army and was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh as a Visiting Professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine.

Changfeng Tai

Associate Professor, Department of Urology
University of Pittsburgh


Dr. Changfeng Tai received his PhD degree in biomedical engineering from the Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, in 1992. After his postdoctoral training in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, he joined the Department of Pharmacology as a faculty. Currently he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urology at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include functional neuromuscular stimulation to restore urinary bladder functions and locomotion functions after spinal cord injury, model analysis of nerve stimulation, and neurophysiology and pharmacology of the lower urinary tract.

Dr. Tai’s research is funded by NIH, DOD, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Medtronic Inc., and Ethicon Inc., a Johnson and Johnson Company. He has served as a member of study sections for NIH, DOD, and VA. Dr. Tai is a senior member of IEEE and a member of Society for Neuroscience.

Thomas J. Walters

Research Physiologist, Extremity Trauma and Regenerative Medicine
University of Pittsburgh




Dr. Thomas J. Walters received the Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Physiology from the State University of New York, Genesco, New York; the Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology form the University of Texas – Austin, Austin, TX; and the Doctorate of Science degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Texas-Austin as well.   Dr. Walters conducted post-doctoral research at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB in San Antonio, Texas. 

Dr. Walters is currently a Research Physiologist with the US Army Institute of Surgical Research at Ft. Sam Houston, TX and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas, Austin, TX.  Dr. Walters’s current research projects include: Engineered Skeletal Muscle for Craniofacial Reconstruction, which focuses on the development of tissue engineering/regenerative medicine approaches for the treatment complex craniofacial trauma; Optimizing Treatment for Volumetric Muscle Loss (VML), designed to further develop animal models of volumetric muscle loss that result in permanent functional decrement; and GWOT Vascular Injury with a focus on the Impact of Prophylactic Fasciotomy -  a retrospective analysis of the morbidities associated with prophylactic fasciotomy in service members that suffered major vascular trauma.



Faculty Disclosure

Faculty for this activity have been required to disclose all relationships with any proprietary entity producing health care goods or services, with the exemption of non-profit or government organizations and non-health care related companies.

No significant financial relationships with commercial entities were disclosed by:

Fabrisia Ambrosio, PhD MPT
Roy D. Bloebaum, PhD
Shelly R. Brown, MEd, Course Coordinator
Octavia “Tae” Harris, BA MS
COL (Ret.) Paul F. Pasquina, MD, Course Director
LTC MC Leon J. Nesti, MD PhD
Bryan J. Pfister, PhD
Ron Poropatich, MD
Changfeng Tai, PhD
Thomas J. Walters, PhD

The following information was disclosed:

Rory Cooper, PhD, Course Director. Patent Agreements: AT Sciences; Three Rivers Holdings


CME Accreditation and Designation Statement 

This activity has been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and Policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Center for Rehabilitation Science Research at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Science.  The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine designates this live activity for a maximum of 7.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Other health care professionals are awarded 0.7 continuing education units (CEU's) which are equal to 7.0 contact hours.


Disclaimer Statement

The information presented at this CME program represents the views and opinions of the individual presenters, and does not constitute the opinion or endorsement of, or promotion by, the UPMC Center for Continuing Education in the Health Sciences, UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center or Affiliates and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Reasonable efforts have been taken intending for educational subject matter to be presented in a balanced, unbiased fashion and in compliance with regulatory requirements. However, each program attendee must always use his/her own personal and professional judgment when considering further application of this information, particularly as it may relate to patient diagnostic or treatment decisions including, without limitation, FDA-approved uses and any off-label uses.