HSRF 1: Introduction

Hello! My name is Ben Leslie and I am a rising senior studying Bioengineering with a minor in Chemistry. I also play hockey for the Pitt Men’s Ice Hockey team. My research mentor is Dr. Antonio D’Amore, from the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the department of Surgery, and the department of Bioengineering. The project I will be working on this summer consists of characterizing the mechanical and flow properties of a pediatric heart valve scaffold. Dr. D’Amore’s and Dr. Wagner’s labs has been working on this heart valve scaffold for some time, however, all of this work has been completed using an adult sized valve scaffold. While this scaffold looks to provide solutions for adult valve replacement, it has major implications within congenital heart defects, specifically those involving valvular anomalies. As a result of these congenital applications, it is necessary to begin to examine how these scaffolds function when their size and geometry is different from the adult scaffolds. This project will entail mechanical property characterization through the use of a biaxial tensile testing device, which will allow for the stress-strain response of the valve to be examined. Additionally, the flow through the valve must be characterized utilizing a flow-loop which will mimic the native cardiovascular environment, including heart rate, systolic pumping of blood, and blood-like fluid properties, among others. This will allow for the effective orifice area and mean pressure gradient to be measured, which will allow for a better understanding of how blood flows through the valve. The characteristics of the pediatric valves will be compared to those of the adult valves to see if there is a difference caused by the altered geometry.

Currently, I am not entirely sure of my professional goals. I cannot decide if I want to attend medical school, or graduate school. I love medicine, patient interaction, and would surely want research to be a part of my career, but I also love the opportunity to work in the lab, which is something I would not be able to do as often if I were to choose medical school. Regardless of what I choose, I know that I will be continuing research to some degree in the future, which is why I chose to take part in the Health Sciences Research Fellowship. This fellowship allows me to collaborate with peers and share my work, while also having the privilege to learn about theirs. I feel this strengthens my ability to communicate with others about my work, especially those outside of my field, which can be particularly difficult and challenging. I hope to use the ideas and criticisms of my peers to improve and strengthen my own work to make it as thorough and valuable as possible.

A pediatric pulmonary valve scaffold.

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