Graduate STEM Fellow Profile
CLIMB: Cornell's Learning Initiative in Medicine and Bioengineering
Thesis: Modeling the Mechanics of Valvulogensis
College/University: Cornell University
Research Advisor: Jonathan Butcher
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering
Department: Biomedical Engineering
Research Focus: Mechanical regulation of atrio-ventricular valve development to understand the causes of congenital heart defects
Teaching Partner(s): Sheena Scouten
Description of Research
Congenital heart defects occur in 1 out of every 125 births. How these defects transpire is poorly understood, but it is believed that micro-environmental conditions may play a large role. Previous studies with in-vivo chick cultures have revealed that altered hemodynamic profiles create underdeveloped valves. The exact mechanism by which this occurs is hypothesized to involve heterogeneous strain profiles and signaling pathways. Tissue engineered in-vitro models provide a platform to study these micro-environmental conditions. Currently, we have obtained data showing the effects of equiaxial strain on the gene expression of embryonic cushion cells. Transforming growth factor beta and vascular endothelial growth factor appear to act as major targets for regulation. To understand the molecular regulation of these growth factors, a system biology approach was applied. The signaling networks of these growth factors were modeled as a set of ordinary differential equations. By solving these systems, sensitivity analysis and experimental simulations will help provide specific targets to regulate cellular fate processes and phenotype. Overall, our targeted approach will help delineate the causes of congenital heart defects and present regenerative medicine solutions.
Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
We hope to incorporate ex-ovo chick cultures in the classroom as a platform for studying micro-environmental conditions on growth. These cultures allow students to easily visualize and take measurements of embryonic development. We hope to incorporate an inquiry-based approach by letting the students dictate variables of their choosing such as temperature, adrenaline, and toxicity. Students will then consider endpoints such as growth rate and heart rate. They will discover that embryonic growth occurs in a non-linear fashion and responds to different micro-environmental conditions. Overall, I hope to communicate that research is a process dictated by creative minds applying a systematic approach to understand the unknown.