Pitt Startup Check-In: Neoolife

Neoolife Is Pioneering Tissue Engineering Across Two Continents

Revolutionizing Heart Valve Replacement with Double Component Deposition (DCD)

Antonio D’Amore arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2008 to pursue his doctoral studies in the Department of Bioengineering with an appointment to the prestigious McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

His groundbreaking research focuses on cardiac tissue engineering and in particular on endogenous tissue restoration and biomaterials design. When applied to polymer processing, these lines of inquiry resulted in Double Component Deposition (DCD), a technology used to create tissue-engineered scaffolds for heart valve replacements and other critical cardiovascular applications through a process called “electrodeposition.” These innovative “biomimetic” valves, formed by depositing polymers through microscale filaments, are designed to replace mechanical or animal-derived valves with more durable alternatives that do not require blood-thinning drugs and are resistant to calcification.

At Pitt D’Amore found the perfect environment to advance his research, receiving invaluable encouragement, mentoring, and funding to explore the commercial translation of his research.

Earlier this year, Neoolife — a company co-founded by D’Amore, where he also serves as board member and chief technology officer — secured a multimillion-dollar agreement with a leading global medical device company. This funding will support the preclinical and clinical trial phases of its heart valve technology. If successful, the device company may acquire this technology, while allowing the Neoolife team to continue developing its platform for other applications.

“From my perspective, Antonio is the most talented scientist I have met. He is creating disruptive inventions that will change the entire world in the structural heart space,” said Neoolife co-founder and CEO David Kokot, a veteran of the medical device industry.

After earning his PhD, D’Amore, now an associate professor of bioengineering and surgery, continued to expand his intellectual property portfolio while leading the cardiac tissue engineering laboratory at Fondazione RiMED. This international partnership between Pitt, UPMC, and the Italian government in his hometown of Palermo, Sicily, promotes biotech research with a focus on clinical translation. During this period, D’Amore pioneered his electrodeposition technique that efficiently creates microscopic polymer filaments and can be applied to complex geometries like heart vavles.


Double component deposition processed heart valves developed with Antonio D'Amore's novel electrodeposition process.


“We did something different to substantially improve control of polymer deposition in terms of structure and function. I wanted to be stronger than 3D printing and stronger than conventional electrospinning,” D’Amore said. “One of the advantages of our platform is that there are no limits on the device shape, and our process, now augmented by robotics, can be applied to all four heart valves. We have achieved what we believe is the finest level of control for polymer deposition.”

To facilitate the clinical translation of his innovation, D’Amore secured two rounds of funding through Pitt’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and through the Coulter Foundation Translational Research partnership. Following the formation of Neoolife, the team successfully applied for an STTR Phase I grant supported by the NIH. Later, the same technological platform also received major funds from the European Research Council, with two projects currently being conducted in D'Amore's RiMED cardiovascular tissue engineering laboratory in Palermo.

D’Amore credits William Wagner, also co-founder of Neoolife and former McGowan Institute director, for fostering an environment where he could "create an independent niche" for his work, leveraging the expertise of fellow researchers.

He also praises the Pitt Innovation Institute, and in particular licensing manager Janice Panza, for guiding him through the creation of his intellectual property portfolio and supporting the critical license agreement with Neoolife.

“Janice provided the quick response times needed to make this happen. She did amazing work to align the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship rules with Neoolife business needs,” he said.

RiMED is the co-owner alongside Pitt of the issued patents licensed to Neoolife. RiMED also supported D'Amore's growth and research activity since 2011 via a faculty training program run in partnership with Pitt and UPMC. This program provided research funds, scientific and leadership training at the Pitt School of Medicine and enabled the creation of D'Amore's lab in Palermo.

D’Amore, among other co-founders of Neoolife, including Vinay Badhwar and Garrett Coyan, was introduced to Kokot through a mutual acquaintance, Guiseppe D'Ancona, also a Neoolife co-founder. Despite launching Neoolife in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, with Kokot in Germany and D’Amore between Pittsburgh and Italy, the team successfully navigated these challenges.

“We started a business together, but it took almost three years for us to meet face-to-face,” D’Amore said.

Kokot views the intellectual property licensed from Pitt and RiMED as a “platform technology” with vast potential. “There is much more to come. We look forward to further developing the technology for improved patient outcomes,” he said, noting the growing $10 billion annual market for transcatheter valve implantation.

“We are now scaling up infrastructure, from lab space to people,” he said. “If we hit our milestones, we can have an acquisition of our initial technology within the next few years.” Operating across the United States and Europe (Germany, Italy, and Spain), Neoolife employs over ten full-time employees or consultants.

With a promising future ahead, Neoolife is poised to make significant strides in the field of heart valve tissue engineering, potentially transforming patient care on a global scale.


If you are a Pitt innovator interested in exploring the commercial potential of your innovation, the NSF I-Corps offers a month-long short course to help you discover the value that your innovation may offer to potential customers. Learn more and apply.