Arizona bioengineers net AHA grants for CV research

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Three Arizona State University (ASU) bioengineers pursuing methods to treat cardiovascular health challenges have earned grants from the American Heart Association, totaling more than $130,000 over two years.

ASU's Associate Professor Brent Vernon, PhD, and Assistant Professor David H. Frakes, PhD, are pursuing new treatments for brain aneurysms through research they are conducting in partnership with the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Assistant Professor Xiao Wang, PhD, is developing mathematical modeling to predict behavior of cellular processes and engineered gene networks related to cardiovascular health. All three bioengineers are faculty members in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at ASU.

Aneurysms can be major factors in the onset and progression of cardiovascular diseases, according to ASU, and they form in weak areas where arteries join, causing them to balloon into pouches that fill with blood. If the pouches rupture or leak, blood spills out into the surrounding tissues, which can potentially cause stroke and related threats to the body’s vascular system.

Vernon is working to develop a technique which will deliver a drug to aneurysm sites to “seal them off” and prevent ruptures. The current treatment method—which includes the use of devices made from platinum coils that cause the blood to clot inside an aneurysm—has drawbacks, according to Vernon. The coils tend to compact over time and new protective tissues don’t consistently form over the coils, which can result in a reoccurrence of blood flow into the site. His method aims to deliver a gel via injection into an aneurysm site, where it will turn into a solid material that will fill up the site and better prevent reforming of canals that would let blood flow resume.

Frakes also is working on methods to prevent fluids from flowing into aneurysms, and will develop experiments and simulations to study the effectiveness of certain approaches, according to ASU.

Wang will study the mechanisms of cell differentiation and its impact as a factor in cardiovascular disease. Using mathematical modeling, he will study cell and gene network behavior.