This proposal describes a five-year training and research plan to broaden the Pi's electrical engineering background and help her gain experience in cardiac cell biology. To achieve this, the PI (Clemson University) will work closely with her mentors, Dr. Naren Vyavahare at Clemson University and Dr. Thomas Borg and Dr. Edie Goldsmith, at the University of South Carolina. The training plan includes 1) coursework in cell biology and biochemistry, 2) hands-on experimental technique training in cardiac cell culture and molecular biology assays, and 3) professional development activities through workshops and networking opportunities. The goal of this training to is allow the PI to gain the skills necessary to apply for independent NIH funding (e.g., R01) and to allow her to become a well-balanced biomedical engineering researcher. To complement the training, the PI proposes a research plan aimed at combining her engineering expertise with the cardiac cell biology techniques in which she will train. The complex interplay of cell function and mechanical stresses is important for many physiological and pathological processes, such as defects and diseases in mechanically active tissues like the heart. A solid understanding of this relationship would enable better design of in vitro constructs that could be used for tissue-engineered treatment of mechanically active tissues. Presently, the nature of these interactions is not fully understood, largely due to limitations in traditional single-cell mechanical measurement techniques. The proposed researchfocuses on understanding cardiac-cell mechanics and interactions as a function of the microenvironment. First, the mechanical properties of cardiomyocytes and fibroblasts as a function of the extracellular matrix will be assessed using atomic force microscopy. Then, the effect of cardiomyocyte-fibroblast interactions on cellular mechanics will be determined. Finally, structure-based cell-mechanics models will be built that will enable the use of data from imaging techniques to predict cardiac-cell mechanical properties. The long-term goal of this proposal is to better understand the mechanical coupling of cardiac cells. This understanding is critical for building effective micro- to macroscale models of cardiac tissue function, which is the key for developing in vivo repair strategies based on regenerative medicine.
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