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NSF Grant Awarded To Rebecca L. Heise, Ph.D.

Monday, October 20, 2014  
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With her research in lung injury treatment gaining attention and momentum, Rebecca L. Heise, Ph.D., has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for her project, “Propagation of Lung Fibrosis through Mechanotransduction.”

The Faculty Early Career Development Program is a prestigious subset of the NSF that emphasizes the role of teacher-scholars who integrate education and outstanding research within the context of their scientific initiatives. Almost a half million in support has already been provided to Heise, assistant professor in the VCU Department of Biomedical Engineering, for her continued inquiry.

The objective of Heise’s NSF funded project is to discover how the mechanical stretch of alveolar epithelial cells may affect lung fibrosis. Injury to the tissues that line the cavities and surfaces of the body is a serious event in the spread of fibrotic lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis. Through studying mechanotransduction, the way in which cells convert mechanical stimulus into chemical activity, as well as through the use of animal modules Heise hypothesizes that mechanical strain on these epithelium does in fact alter tissue properties.

“We have data that suggests if we take epithelial cells and stretch them they will switch to a cell type that forms scar tissue,” said Heise. “We hope that by figuring out the mechanotransduction pathway, we can come up with new pharmaceutical options for treatment.”

Living up to the teacher-scholar aspect of her grant, Heise also established a hands-on outreach program for middle school students. This learning platform will allow under-represented students to discover epithelial cell mechanobiology through active and engaging demonstrations.

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