Ariadna Herrera, a Ph.D. student from the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), received the 2024 Stop Heart Disease “Early Career Researcher of the Year” Award from the Florida Heart Research Foundation (FHRF). Every year, in collaboration with the Florida Chapter of the American College of Cardiology, the FHRF recognizes the “Stop Heart Disease Early Career Researcher of the Year,” whose research is felt to have had a major impact on the advancement of knowledge in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Herrera is a Ph.D. candidate at the BME Department, and her work focuses on investigating the structural properties and functionality of different biomaterials to create tissue-engineered heart valves that can grow and develop inside children born with valvular heart defects. Herrera was also issued a non-provisional patent on a decellularized biological scaffold for tissue engineering and works as a teaching assistant.

As part of this recognition from the FHRF, Herrera will receive $50,000 at this year’s Annual Meeting of the Florida Chapter of the American College of Cardiology. She will use these funds to continue exploring materials that can be used to tissue engineer heart valves, such as nanofibrous scaffolds. Mechanical testing will be performed to obtain important material properties, and hydrodynamic functionality will also be performed to assess how these scaffolds might behave under physiologically-relevant flow. The obtained parameters will be compared to those of native valves to understand which materials are most compatible to function as valves.

The long-term outcomes of these studies could lead to the development of tissue-engineered valve replacements that would prevent the need for multiple surgeries and interventions for children born with valve defects.