Two Biomedical Engineering Faculty Receive Grants from the American Heart Association
Top of figure: Y-shaped lesions in bifurcation, where the coronary blood vessel branches Bottom of figure: Computational model of traditional stent for treating coronary artery disease
Morten Jensen, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Kartik Balachandran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, have each received a $154,000 Institutional Research Enhancement Award (AIREA) grant from the American Heart Association. The money will be used to fund projects that will further their respective research on the human heart.
Jensen's project, titled "Optimizing Treatment of Coronary Bifurcation Lesions," is a collaboration with Barry Uretsky, the director of interventional cardiology at UAMS, and Lucas Timmins from the University of Utah Department of Bioengineering.
The aim of the project is to improve treatment for coronary artery disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and globally. At present, coronary artery stents have made the treatment of heart attacks faster, less invasive, and more available to many patients. However, in about 25 percent of heart attacks, a blockage still forms in a bifurcation, a spot where the coronary blood vessel branches. Currently, there are no stents that are particularly designed for these bifurcations, and knowledge of the mechanics of blood flow through them is limited. Through their project, Jensen and his colleagues aim to provide clinicians with information about how to better approach bifurcations for treatment.
"During a meeting at UAMS we were invited in to discuss the coronary structure of one of Dr. Uretsky's patients, still on the table recovering from a coronary stent procedure following a heart attack. That puts it into perspective right then and there — how desperately this type of research is needed," said Jensen. "As biomedical engineers," he added, "it is important that our work has relevance for patients, and working directly with clinicians is a great way to ensure that."
Balachandran's project, titled, "The Role of a Local Renin-Angiotensin System in the Initiation and Progression of Calcific Aortic Valve Disease," aims to better identify mechanisms for the initiation and progression of calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD). Currently, CAVD affects about three to five percent of the population and can result in an approximately 50 percent increase in risk of death from cardiovascular causes. At present, patients with CAVD receive surgical heart replacement, as there are no other therapeutic strategies. Through benchtop research and animal studies, Balachandran and his team will be able to develop a potential therapeutic regime for the treatment or prevention of CAVD. The project will also support a full-time graduate student and two summer undergraduate students over the course of its duration.
"I am extremely proud of Drs. Balachandran and Jensen for addressing critical issues related to cardiovascular health and proposing meaningful solutions that integrate engineering and medicine," said Raj Rao, professor and head of the biomedical engineering department.
More details about ongoing cardiovascular research in the Department of Biomedical Engineering can be found at https://biomedical-engineering.uark.edu/cardiovascular_research.php.
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