American Heart Association grant to study heart disease at cellular level

A UT Arlington bioengineering professor has been awarded a $140,000 American Heart Association grant to study how physical and biological factors influence the proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells, a condition that can lead to heart disease.

Kytai Nguyen, an associate professor of bioengineering associate professor, said a better understanding of how smooth muscle cells respond to changes in their environment could lead to a better understanding of how vascular disease develops. Movement of smooth muscle cells and their proliferation have been shown to play an important role in heart diseases such as atherosclerosis and restenosis, she said.

Nguyen is collaborating with two University of Texas at Arlington faculty colleagues, bioengineering professor Charles Chuong and J.-C. Chiao, an electrical engineering and bioengineering professor.

“We hope to provide critical insights into the regulatory mechanisms that both physical and biological stimuli have on smooth muscle cell responses, especially at the pathological levels,” Nguyen said. “We also could gain new knowledge that might lead to the development of better therapies and treatment strategies for cardiovascular diseases.”

More than 81 million Americans suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association. Slightly more than one in three U.S. deaths was directly attributable to cardiovascular disease.

The study aims to address an important issue in vascular biology: how does combined mechanical and chemical stimulation influence smooth muscle cell responses including proliferation, transformation and inflammation.

“When we know the causes of these diseases, then it’s easier to fine the treatments and develop better therapies and treatments,” Nguyen said.

One main goals of the research is to develop and apply the Microwell Array Stretch System to investigate the smooth muscle cells’ responses to stretch and growth factors. The system will allow researchers to study multiple samples simultaneously – which reduces the cost of such testing – and allows researchers to study signaling pathways that regulate changes in smooth muscle cells’ responses.

“It’s important to see why they are multiplying and becoming inflamed,” said Nguyen, whose specialty is cell and tissue engineering. “Ultimately, the research could lead to better drugs or vascular implants to combat these diseases.”

Khosrow Behbehani, chair of UT Arlington’s Department of Bioengineering, said the heart disease research is the representative of UT Arlington research that can improve lives.

“These diseases are so prevalent,” Behbehani said. “This integration of engineering and life science is crucial to answering some of the fundamental questions regarding how these diseases develop and can be treated.”

Nguyen’s work is representative of the groundbreaking research taking place at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of 33,439 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit to learn more.

Herb Booth,, 817-272-7075

The University of Texas at Arlington,