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PhD candidates honored with Presidential Fellowships, research focused on vascular health
Mechanical engineering PhD candidates Hoda Hatoum and Ehsan Akbari have each been selected by The Ohio State University Graduate School as recipients of the distinguished Presidential Fellowship.
The most prestigious award given by the Graduate School, awardees are described as embodying the highest standards of scholarship in the full range of Ohio State's graduate programs. The esteemed designation will provide the students with full-time financial support for one year to allow them to complete their dissertations unimpeded by other duties.
Focused on the biological application of mechanical engineering, both Hatoum’s and Akbari’s research projects involve the intersection of engineering and medicine, specifically involving fluid mechanics and vascular health.
For Hatoum, the year ahead will be spent studying the fluid mechanics of transcatheter heart valves through assessing the impact of implantation on physiological flows and pressure conditions, in addition to its engendered turbulence. Her research constitutes a base for better medical device manufacturing and implementation of surgery guidelines, primarily affecting patients’ quality of life. Moreover, it highlights the sensitivity of fluid mechanics in a very complex and uncontrolled environment—the human cardiac system.
“Transcatheter aortic valve replacement is like changing the valves of an engine while it’s still running,” says Hatoum. “Imagine the engineering principles that I have the opportunity to uncover.”
Advised by Lakshmi Prasad Dasi in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Hatoum conducts her research in the Cardiovascular and Biofluid Mechanics Laboratory, located in The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Dorothy M. Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. There, she is part of a multidisciplinary team of physicians and engineers gaining much attention for its innovative approach to improving care for patients receiving aortic valve replacements.
“I'm very grateful for this award because it is an investment in and validation of my academic pursuits,” she says. “I've always wanted to be a mechanical engineer solving complex problems.”
Hatoum, who has already presented her findings at the Heart Valve Society, will share her work at the 18th U.S. National Congress for Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, the 8th World Congress of Biomechanics and the 2018 Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting.
Akbari’s work is also centered on vascular health. During his year-long fellowship, he will investigate the use of DNA-based nanostructures to study how blood vessel cells communicate with each other to coordinate their corporate response to the application of fluid forces at blood vessel bifurcations. Results will be based on the recording of tensile forces between adjacent cells. The use of such highly novel tools can help answer some of the fundamental questions about how cells respond to mechanical forces.
Akbari is enthusiastic about his research. “It has always intrigued me how individual cells, as complex biological components, are programmed to coordinate their response to mechanical forces. Revealing the underlying mechanisms of this response through the use of DNA as the building block for the design of force probes almost sounds like an idea I would have read in a futuristic science fiction magazine!”
The Microsystems for Mechanobiology and Medicine (MMM) Laboratory, led by his advisor Jonathan Song, is where Akbari will complete his research. He will work in conjunction with the Nanosystems and Biodesign Laboratory, as well as the Microsystems and Nanosystems Laboratory. The laboratories are part of a multifaceted engineering team recently awarded a National Institute of Health grant to establish a fundamental understanding of blood vessel permeability.
“I feel incredibly grateful for receiving the Presidential Fellowship,” Akbari says. “I look forward to implementing engineering techniques developed in the MMM Laboratory to help advance the general understanding of how mechanical forces coordinate vascular function in health and disease.”
Along with Hatoum, Akbari’s work will be presented at the 2018 Biomedical Engineering Society annual meeting. Part of his research will also be presented at the NanoEngineering for Medicine and Biology conference.
The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering has produced 16 Presidential Fellows over the past five years, evidencing the achievements and performance of faculty and graduate students.