Biomedical Engineering Master's Student to Present at World Congress of Biomechanics in Dublin

Jessica Perez will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to present her biomedical engineering research.
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Jessica Perez will travel to Dublin, Ireland, to present her biomedical engineering research.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Master's student Jessica Perez has been awarded a Diversity Travel Award to attend the 2018 World Congress of Biomechanics in Dublin, Ireland.

Perez, a former Honors College Bodenhamer Fellow and current graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, was also selected as a finalist for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers-Bioengineering Division (ASME-BED) in the M.S. Level Student Paper Competition in the category "Cardiovascular Biomechanics, Sport Biomechanics, Devices, and Emerging Areas" to be held at the Congress.

Perez's travel will also be supported in part by a Master/Educational Specialist travel grant from the University of Arkansas Graduate School and International Education.

Her graduate research, overseen by associate professor Kartik Balachandran, focuses on investigating how the local renin-angiotensin signaling (RAS) pathway affects the mechanical function of the aortic valve both at the cellular and whole-tissue levels, and their effects on cell phenotype to determine the role of RAS mediators on early calcific aortic valve disease initiation and progression.

More than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year of which 1.5 million people suffer of aortic stenosis (AS) in which calcific aortic valve disease (CAVD) is the most common cause of AS. Successful completion of this project will result in the development of therapies for the treatment or prevention of CAVD, for which there currently is no drug-based treatment option.

Perez's graduate research was inspired by the undergraduate research she conducted, which was later published in the Cardiovascular Engineering and Technology journal, as well as previous research conducted by Adrian Chester, their collaborators in London. "If not for the Honors College undergraduate thesis requirement," said Perez, "I would have never become involved in research or realized my passion for it. It's amazing to see how my undergraduate project has developed to a more advanced and novel graduate project and how it has opened the opportunity to continue working with our collaborators abroad."

Though Perez originally hails from De Queen, this trip to Dublin won't be her first venture across the pond. During her final year as an undergraduate student, she participated in year-long exchange program at the University of Essex, and it was during this time she was offered the opportunity to do research training at the Harefield Heart Science Centre in Northwest London the following year as a graduate student.

In a 2017 blog post for the Biomedical Engineering Department, she wrote "I'm doing things [in London] that I had only discussed theoretically in classes or read about in journal articles. The members of the research group I am in have been doing what they do for a long time and are extremely experienced in their field. I've read some of their articles while doing my own projects back home, and I would have never imagined that I would be able to be trained by them firsthand."

"Since returning from London," she added, "I have been trying to see more specifically what I want to focus on in my research. Thanks to the people I worked with in London and especially Dr. Balachandran, I have found that I enjoy investigating early detection of calcific aortic valve disease using cell mechanobiology and tissue mechanics. At WCB, I am competing in the Cardiovascular Biomechanics category, and by doing so, I will be able to not only present the hard work I have been doing as a graduate student but also to network with other people in the field I hope to pursue. Conferences can be very nerve racking but also very rewarding because your research is being recognized by others in the scientific community. Receiving the Diversity Travel Award has granted me the opportunity to attend this conference, and I couldn't be more grateful. I'm really excited to attend WCB and the opportunity to represent the University of Arkansas Biomedical Engineering department."

"Receiving the travel award and nomination for the M.S. level paper competition is truly a testament to Jessica's efforts in this project over the last couple of years," Balachandran said.

"Receipt of this award by Jessica demonstrates the commitment of the biomechanics and biomedical engineering community in promoting diversity. Kudos to Jessica and her mentor Dr. Balachandran for providing her the valuable guidance to pursue these rewarding opportunities to present at an international forum," said Raj Rao, professor and department head of biomedical engineering.


Nick DeMoss, director of communications
College of Engineering


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