Mechanical causes behind congenital heart defect under new focus

Jessica Wagenseil and her team will take a closer look at the mechanics on smooth muscle cells in the aortic wall with a new NIH grant. (Image: Wagenseil lab)

Mutations in the elastin gene are believed to be behind supravalvular aortic stenosis (SVAS), a genetic defect that causes narrowing of the aorta, thus increasing the risk of sudden cardiac death. But there may be an additional contributor to this rare genetic disorder, for which there is no pharmaceutical treatment. 

Jessica Wagenseil, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, plans to look at the role of altered mechanics on smooth muscle cells in the aortic wall with a four-year $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Results of this work may help to identify new drug strategies that could prevent some of these changes.

Wagenseil, also vice dean for faculty advancement, has long studied elastin, a protein that is a key component of a network of elastic fibers that allows the aorta to expand and contract in response to mechanical strain, such as blood pressure. Building on that work, she and her lab will look at changes in the way smooth muscle cells convert a mechanical stimulus, such as strain, if there has not been enough elastin laid down during development needed to stiffen the aortic wall.

Read more on the McKelvey School of Engineering website.

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