Angie Castro, a doctoral student in the chemical engineering program at Penn State, works in the Bio-Soft Materials Laboratory (B-SMaL), where she focuses on 3D printing granular scaffolds for tissue engineering and regeneration to meet precise medical needs. Her work is now supported by a new grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This project is now supported by a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded to her supervisor and B-SMaL director, Amir Sheikhi. Sheikhi is also the Huck Early Career Chair in Biomaterials and Regenerative Engineering and Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering. The $293,016 grant complements a four-year, $3 million grant that Sheikhi and Dino Ravnic, Huck Chair in Regenerative Medicine and Surgical Sciences, received earlier this year.
Castro’s contribution to the project involves using 3D bioprinting to arrange cells in a specific order, creating organized blood vessel structures in the tissue. These structures allow researchers to explore potential solutions to vascular diseases and test them on lab-grown blood vessels.
“Millions of people suffer from vascular diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension and peripheral artery disease,” Castro said. “Bioprinting is an emerging sector of tissue engineering where these innovations can be translated for more reliable in vitro drug testing. By mimicking physiological conditions with tissue that includes bioprinted structured networks of blood vessels, these health concerns can be better studied and addressed in clinical settings.”
“My interest first peaked as a kid going to my dad’s medical appointments and learning about the procedures and recovery for his knee reconstruction,” Castro said. “With this interest and a drive for innovation, I found my niche in engineering biomaterials.”
Castro was inspired by her father’s knee problems as a child. Observing how biomaterials and biomedical engineering restored her father’s knee made her want to pursue research that could help people with serious health problems.
“Diversity isn’t merely a trendy term or a checklist item; it mirrors our worldwide community,” said Sheikhi, who is also affiliated with the Materials Research Institute. “To guarantee that the rewards of research progress are fairly shared and no community is overlooked, it’s crucial for STEM disciplines to echo the varied societies they cater to. A diverse STEM team doesn’t just fuel economic prosperity; more critically, it ensures that the perspectives and needs of a wider audience are taken into account when devising new technologies or approaches.”
“STEM must be available for everyone, and a student’s background should not be a hurdle against success,” Sheikhi said. “Diverse teams, like what I am building in B-SMaL, bring together a variety of perspectives, experiences and approaches to problem solving. I am very excited about this award and am thankful to NIH and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for their support because it will be a stepping stone for my lab’s future efforts in weaving the foundations of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging with our research endeavors.”
Castro’s work and the support of the NIH grant underscore the importance of innovation and diversity in scientific research. This approach will open new avenues in the treatment and study of vascular disease while promoting the inclusion of different perspectives and experiences in research.