HOUSTON -- (Jan. 5, 2012) -- Rice University's Jane Grande-Allen, one of the world's foremost experts on the biomechanics of heart-valve tissue, has won an Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association.
The award, which includes a five-year research grant, recognizes midcareer scientists who have shown "unusual promise and an established record of accomplishments." Grande-Allen, associate professor of bioengineering and a faculty investigator in Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative, is the first Rice faculty member to win the award.
"It's very competitive, in part because there aren't nearly as many awards for established investigators as there are for people who are just starting out," Grande-Allen said. "I am completely astounded and delighted that I won it. It's going to support some of the most exciting research I've ever undertaken."
Grande-Allen's group studies heart valves, the flexible, resilient flaps of tissue that open and close each time the heart beats. When valves are diseased and do not seal properly, the heart must work harder to pump blood. About 100,000 Americans per year undergo surgery for the repair or replacement of diseased heart valves.
Grande-Allen's specialty is studying the unique biological and material properties of valves so doctors can better understand and treat valve disease. For example, the bulk of material in heart valves is fibrous tissue collectively called extracellular matrix (ECM). Evidence indicates that the ECM in heart valves is different from the ECM found in any other tissue of the body. The same is true of the living cells that produce valvular ECM. Such "valvular interstitial cells" are found in no other part of the body.
Grande-Allen said recent studies indicate that specialized carbohydrate-protein assemblies called proteoglycans (PGs) as well as complex carbohydrates called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) play important but poorly understood ro
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