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Boston University Biomedical Engineer Wins Hartwell Foundation Grant To Create Pediatric Blood Vessel Grafts That Grow With The Child

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Boston University Biomedical Engineer Joyce Wong will work to create engineered blood vessels aimed at correcting pediatric heart defects under a major grant from The Hartwell Foundation. Wong is one of just 12 researchers nationwide to win the foundation's prestigious Individual Biomedical Research Award.
"We're very excited about this because it's enabling us to bring our research in a new direction, to develop solutions for children," said Wong, who also has a personal connection to the work, with a niece and nephew both diagnosed with congenital heart problems.
Wong explained that current grafts used to correct heart defects in children, typically involving the pulmonary artery, have limits. They are prone to aneurysms, thrombosis, shrinkage and calcification, and cannot grow with the child, necessitating repeated surgeries throughout childhood. Wong hopes to overcome these drawbacks with a new class of engineered blood vessels created from the patient's own tissues.
She plans to build a bioreactor - a device that simulates the environment of the human body and can assess how engineered tissues react to fluids, pressure and other stimuli - for the project, and collaborate with colleagues in the US, Canada and Japan, as well as a pediatric cardiac surgeon at Boston's Children's Hospital.
"Grafts using tissue engineering approaches have the potential to grow with the child and therefore would have tremendous impact on clinical practice," Wong said. "Although I designed this research with pulmonary artery repair in mind, the results may be applicable to other artery types as well."
Wong's grant - which will total $300,000 over three years - is the second Hartwell Foundation Individual Biomedical Researcher Award Boston University has won in two years. Last year, BU School of Medicine Professor Michael Wolfe won an award to develop a technique to correct hormone and enzyme deficiencies that cause disease, such as Type 1 diabetes.
"Through a unique and selective funding process, The Hartwell Foundation has worked with Boston University to provide financial support to stimulate biomedical discovery," said Fred Dombrose, Ph.D., president of the foundation. "Transformative research, like that proposed by Joyce Wong and Michael Wolfe, has high risk compared to more conservative approaches; but if successful, these researchers will make a substantial difference in improving the health of children."
"We are gratified that the Hartwell Foundation has recognized two of our outstanding biomedical researchers two years in a row," said Boston University Associate Provost and Vice President for Research Andrei Ruckenstein. "Both Michael Wolfe's and Joyce Wong's research is ground breaking and is likely to have a major impact on the lives of children everywhere."
"Joyce Wong's research is another example of why Boston University is among the best at developing novel approaches to biomedical engineering challenges," said Boston University College of Engineering Dean Kenneth R. Lutchen. "I'm delighted The Hartwell Foundation recognizes the extraordinary promise of her work."
Boston University
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