My independent research interests concern the dynamic composition of the vascular extracellular matrix (ECM), in particular the quantity and quality of elastic fibers that are present. Drawing on this experience, I have teamed up with the Director of the VBL to provide research oversight for the stem-cell derived tissue engineered vascular graft and abdominal aortic aneurysm therapeutics projects. Owing to the VBL’s position within the Department of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, I also serve as a secondary, on-site mentor, for the pre-doctoral fellows within the lab (see below). In this role, I teach the trainees about writing manuscripts and grant proposals, following good tissue culture technique, and managing their projects towards a successful outcome.
Understanding the mechanobiology of vascular smooth muscle cells, particularly in the context of abdominal aortic aneurysm, will allow us to develop an effective therapy. One outcome that I am particularly interested in is the production of elastin in response to stimuli from mesenchymal stem cells (MSC). To study this phenomenon, I have used the Flexcell Tissue Train system to impart mechanical loading to 3D cellularized constructs, and have added factors secreted by MSC to this system. I am also heading a project to deliver MSC to the adventitia of an established abdominal aortic aneurysm, work which has already led to one peer-reviewed publication.
I came from the University of Arizona where my thesis focused on the biomechanics and mechanobiology of abdominal aortic aneurysms. In the Vorp lab at the University of Pittsburgh, my work focuses on the development of an autologous, culture-free, adipose cell based tissue
engineered vascular graft (TEVG) and the scale up for clinical relevance. By creating a TEVG that bypasses the lengthy process of stem cell acquisition and possibility of further contamination, the implementation of a quick and effective autologous graft for the treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD)
becomes more feasible and is of growing importance. There is significant effort being put into effective TEVGs as CVD is the leading cause of death in our aging population.
My work focuses on developing a cell free tissue engineered vascular graft (TEVG) which retains the pro-remodeling and anti-thrombogenic properties of stem cell based TEVGs. Current stem cell based TEVGs rely on the host to undergo a remodeling process which is stimulated by the engrafted
cells. Despite the positive effects of stem cells in TEVGs, they also represent the greatest roadblock to clinical translation due to the extensive culture time of each graft and the possibility that not all patient demographics possess suitable cells (e.g. diabetics). The goal of my work is to apply the
pro-remodeling factors of stem cells to a synthetic TEVG suitable for all patient populations.
My job in the VBL is to design and customize systems to do mechanical testing of biological materials. I test different biological tissues to characterize their mechanical properties and build constitutive equations. I have been working in the reconstruction of patient specific 3D geometry of AAA, thoracic and cerebral aneurysms. My focus is to computationally analyze these geometries for potential rupture prediction and evaluate treatment methods using finite element methods in ABAQUS and user defined material properties.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are characterized by their minimal vascular stability, with regenerative medicine efforts focused primarily on engineering regeneration of the elastic matrix. My primary role in the VBL is to develop novel techniques for monitoring elastin assembly in the
context of aneurysm and other elastin-disrupting diseases. These techniques are used to bridge the work of Dr. Justin Weinbaum's Vascular ECM Dynamics Laboratory with the VBL's vascular remodeling research. My ultimate goal is to understand enough about the dynamics of vascular elastin and elastin
organizational proteins to develop novel "pro-elastogenesis" therapies.