Rice University bioengineering graduate student Amadeus Zhu has been awarded a predoctoral fellowship by the American Heart Association (AHA) to study why heart failure causes fibrosis in the heart’s mitral valve.
Zhu is beginning his fourth year of the Rice bioengineering doctoral program in the Integrative Matrix Mechanics Laboratory of department chair Jane Grande-Allen. The AHA fellowship will provide up to $62,032 for his research.
The function of the heart’s mitral valve is to keep blood flowing in only one direction during every heartbeat. In many patients with heart failure, the mitral valve does not close completely, causing the blood to counterflow through the chambers of the heart.
Little research has been performed on why the mitral valve is specifically affected in this way, and when it has, cells are grown on petri dishes, which are much stiffer than mitral valves and thus do not mimic the cells’ native environment.
For this study, Zhu will grow mitral valve cells in a special material that more accurately mimics the stiffness of the mitral valve, then change the properties of this material to model what happens to the mitral valve during heart failure.
“Understanding why heart failure causes mitral-valve fibrosis will help scientists discover new medicines for valve disease, allowing patients with heart failure to live longer, healthier lives,” Zhu said.
“By providing a scalable platform for investigating mitral-valve fibrosis, this project will enable us to uncover new insights into the cellular and molecular causes of heart valve disease, which could one day lead to the development of safer and less-invasive pharmaceutical treatments.”