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Predoctoral Fellowship backs cardiovascular, stroke research
Two Rice bioengineering grad students win American Heart Association grants

By Shawn Hutchins

The American Heart Association’s South Central Affiliate has awarded competitive Predoctoral Fellowships to Rice University bioengineering graduate students Dan Gould and Hubert Tseng.

The fellowship, which includes a $25,000 stipend for one to two years of research, is designed to initiate careers in cardiovascular and stroke research. Gould and Tseng are among 14 graduate students selected from across Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and adult disability in the U.S., and the condition affects over 700,000 Americans each year. Patient recovery and survival depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged due to lack of nutrients and oxygen.

Dan Gould Dan Gould is in his third year of graduate studies at Rice and an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Rice-Baylor Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). His research in Associate Professor Mary Dickinson’s laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) involves the use of neural stem cells and novel scaffold materials for implantation into the damaged cortex of stoke patients to stimulate the repair of injured tissue. Dickinson is also an adjunct associate professor in bioengineering at Rice, and a large portion of Gould’s work has been performed and supported by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) Quantum grant in neuro-vascular regeneration – a highly collaborative project with Rice Professor Jennifer West.

 “One critical aspect to stroke recovery is the early development of adequate blood vessel growth. My research seeks to determine which growth factors are needed within the scaffolds to work with neural stem cells and promote blood vessel response and growth of replacement tissues,” said Gould, who has a B.S. in Micobiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Hubert TsengHubert Tseng is a fourth-year graduate student in Associate Professor Jane Grande-Allen’s Integrative Matrix Mechanics Laboratory at Rice. His efforts to reduce death caused by cardiovascular disease take a close look at heart valves from both material and mechanical perspectives.

Each year, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed with valvular heart disease. According to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, about 95,000 open heart surgeries are performed annually for patients with severe narrowing of the heart valve. Conventional heart valve replacement is a well-established procedure, however replacements fail predictably within 10-15 years.

“One underappreciated aspect of aortic valve replacement design is the layered structure of the native tissue. Each layer of aortic valve tissue has different structures: one is very organized with collagen, another is gelatinous, and the other is elastic. These three layers work synergistically to keep up with the demands of the beating heart,” said Tseng.

Tseng’s aim is to design an anisotropic composite-laminate scaffold for aortic valve tissue engineering that matches native material properties. He will use the fellowship funds to investigate different hydrogel designs that are both biocompatible and can be tuned to have different mechanical properties.

Tseng has a B.S. in Engineering Mechanics and in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from Johns Hopkins University.