Southeast Biology Student’s Heart Research Aims to Save Lives

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Southeast Missouri State University student Rutradarshini Asokan hopes studying and researching the heart can help save lives and prepare her to be a successful cardiovascular surgeon.

Asokan, of Seremban, Malaysia, a senior biology major, biomedical sciences option, with a chemistry minor, was recently selected to present her heart atria and valve research at the Biomedical Engineering Society Conference in Philadelphia.

Asokan’s research focused on examining the tissue properties of healthy atria – the upper chambers of the heart – and comparing it with the mitral and tricuspid annulus – valves separating the heart’s left atrium and left ventricle, and right atrium and right ventricle, respectively. Her research was a continuation of heart research begun by Lydia Webster and Eswara Priyanka Nalla, both May 2019 Southeast graduates.

The goal was to determine if the data could be used for decreasing the risk of congenital heart disease, Asokan said.

“We wanted to find out if the material properties of the atria are similar to the material properties of the two annuluses,” she said. “This could provide data for the design of tissue engineered cardiac patches that could be substituted for malfunctioning regions of the atrium. At the same time, we wanted to test the properties of the atrium to determine if atrial tissues could be used in grafting or banding in congenital heart disease.”

Asokan’s research was selected from about 10,000 submitted abstracts, and she presented her findings in the cardiovascular engineering subsection of the conference.

The Biomedical Engineering Society Conference, held in October, brought together undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional researchers who gave high-level scientific presentations and participated in a career/school fair, exhibits and networking sessions for career development.

The research project gave her the opportunity to explore her passion for the medical field while hopefully preparing to help save lives, Asokan said.

“I have always wanted to be a surgeon, and this research project gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream and possibly change many lives in the future,” she said. “Congenital heart disease is one of the most common heart diseases and can be present from birth. According to the data collected from this project a few positive results were collected, but further testing will need to be conducted for more accurate results.”

Asokan credits Dr. Shamik Bhattacharya, assistant professor, and Dr. Santaneel Ghosh, professor, both in the Department of Engineering and Technology, and Dr. James Champine, chair of the Department of Biology and her advisor, for encouraging her in her studies and research interests.

“Dr. Bhattacharya gave constructive criticism and always made sure we were on the right track,” she said. “He also helped arrange a meeting with cardiologists from St. Louis (Missouri) who further aided and helped better the research.”

That expertise was provided by Dr. Pirooz Eghtesady, section chief of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and cardiothoracic surgeon-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Bhattacharya collaborated with hi, and Eghtesady helped to clinically interpret data from Asokan’s research.

In addition, Asokan also credit Ghosh, who, she said, “encouraged me to widen my scope of learning.”

Outside of her research, Asokan is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi Honors Society) and Beta Beta Beta ( Biological Science Honors Society). She is also co- founder and former treasurer of the archery club and former programs coordinator of the National Society of Black Engineers.

Asokan hopes to attend graduate school and earn a doctorate after graduating from Southeast in May.

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