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Bioengineering sophomore Rahul Rekhi wins
Goldwater Scholarship

Scholarship supports student’s work to model blood vessel growth

By Shawn Hutchins

Rahul RekhiBioengineering sophomore Rahul Rekhi is among the 275 American students named 2011 Goldwater Scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. 

Since his freshman year, Rekhi has conducted research in Assistant Professor Amina Qutub’s lab developing computational models to better characterize capillary regeneration and predict the mechanics behind stable blood vessel formation in the cerebrovasculature. The work has tremendous potential to aide in tissue engineering and drug therapies. 

“Problems in healthy blood vessel formation have been linked to virtually every major disease from cancer and diabetes to stroke and obesity. However, relatively little is known yet about how cellular and sub-cellular factors go awry in pathological angiogenesis,” said Rekhi. 

“Over the course of the last two years, I’ve designed an agent-based, rule-driven model to analyze the process by which complex endothelial cell-to-cell interactions, particularly the ‘push-pull’ interactions of tip and stalk cells, guide angiogenic sprouting,” Rekhi added. “By coupling this framework to a genetic algorithm, we can effectively assess how sprout behaviors, such as migration, proliferation, and branching, promote and inhibit each other during the process of vessel formation.” 

In parallel with the modeling work, the native Houstonian has worked to construct an array of image processing algorithms for high-throughput, rapid quantitation of in vitro imaging results. This data will allow the lab to rapidly and efficiently validate its simulated model with experimental wet-lab data. 

Rekhi hopes the knowledge gained from these experiments will accelerate the discovery of new effective drugs and treatments by providing almost instantaneous simulated results.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency that honors the late Barry M. Goldwater, who represented Arizona in the U.S. Senate. This year’s scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,095 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.