Research Proposal Awarded to Shadow Huang and Aaron Bell by Comparative Medicine Institute and the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science

Annually, the CMI hosts the “Think, Collaborate & Do” Ideation event, bringing together faculty, graduate students, and postdocs across departments and colleges interested in human and animal health. Congratulations to  MAE Associate Professor Shadow Huang and AIF Staff Scientist Aaron Bell for being among the seven faculty awardees!
The project, titled “Strain Effects on Proteolysis of Extracellular Matrix in Biological Tissues,” integrates disciplines of Cardiovascular Biomechanics, Bioimaging Sciences, and Biochemistry. This project is interdisciplinary that students will be trained with synergistic skillset of working with biological tissues for mechanical testing, multiphoton microscope, cryo-scanning electronic microscopy, high-pressure freezer, and different biochemical assays. The projects will enable and broaden graduate students’ future career paths. They will have the potential to make important contributions in careers outside academia, such as startup businesses, small and large corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. 
Extracellular matrix proteins (ECM) are the primary components of the valves found in vertebrate hearts. Although collagen is the primary ECM component of valve leaflets, elastin and glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are also present in these tissues. How these other two ECM components contribute toward the stability of valve structure is not well understood. The PIs hypothesize that under physiologically relevant mechanical strain-states, a protective mechanism exists to prevent valvular ECM components to proteolysis, resulting in little change in the ECM microstructure, though with noticeable reduction in ECM components. We will use various biochemical and electron microscopy techniques to investigate the contribution of elastin and GAGs in protecting valve integrity under various physiological conditions.