Dr. Kelly Stevens, an assistant professor in UW Bioengineering and in Pathology, has received a 2016 National institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award in support of her work to build artificial human tissues from stem cells, and to remotely control these tissues after implantation in a patient.
Coronary heart disease afflicts one American every 34 seconds and is the most common form of cardiovascular disease. One treatment strategy could be to replace dead heart muscle with new tissue built from stem cells, but integrating stem cell grafts seamlessly with the uninjured heart tissue remains an unresolved challenge. Dr. Stevens will use the funds from this award to address this issue by 1) building ‘smart’ human heart tissue from stem cells, which can be remotely controlled to dissolve and replace dead heart tissue, and 2) feeding this tissue with blood delivered from new blood vessels using guidance technologies from the microelectronics industry. Dr. Stevens’ NIH research project is titled, “Thermogenetic activation of engineered tissue for cardiac repair.”
The New Innovator Award, part of the NIH’S High Risk-High Reward Research program, supports exceptionally creative, early career investigators who are pursuing research ideas with the potential for unusually high impact in the areas of biomedical and behavioral science. The NIH awards recipients up to $300,000 annually over five years and also covers indirect research costs. “I am deeply grateful for this award, because it will enable me to pursue high-risk and high-reward research at a critical early phase in my career,” said Dr. Stevens.
Dr. Stevens earned a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she earned her Ph.D. in Bioengineering in 2008 from the University of Washington, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship and research scientist position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Stevens joined the UW in January.
“We recruited Kelly to the Department of Bioengineering for her extraordinary innovation and creative thinking,” says Dr. Cecilia Giachelli, the W. Hunter and Dorothy Simpson Endowed Chair in Bioengineering. “I am delighted that the NIH recognizes the same qualities in Kelly and is supporting her work with a New Innovator Award.”