LTU Prof Wins Grant for Testing Engineered Blood Vessels

A Lawrence Technological University professor has won a two-year, $151,734 grant from the American Heart Association to develop a better way to test lab-grown blood vessels.

Jinjun Xia, assistant professor in LTU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, won the Institutional Research Enhancement Award from the AHA.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of patients undergo coronary or peripheral artery bypass surgery. Bypass surgery currently requires harvesting blood vessels from the same patient, causing additional injury, while synthetic vessels are prone to cause blood clots. A promising alternative is tissue engineered blood vessels, or TEBVs, where a patient’s own cells are used to grow new blood vessels on special scaffolding.

TEBVs have to be tested for strength before use, however. And current testing technology is limited to techniques that destroy the vessel, an expensive and time-consuming process.

“The technique to grow these vessels is understood, but there is no nondestructive way to measure their mechanical strength, to measure the stresses those vessels will undergo in the human body,” Xia said.

Xia is proposing to use a combination of ultrasound to create forces similar to those the vessel will experience inside the body, and laser imaging to capture the effect of those forces, to test the vessel’s strength without destroying it.

Similar technology also developed by Xia is currently used in the aerospace industry to test carbon fiber composite materials now being used in aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Xia is still assembling the equipment he’ll need to build the testing system, which will be housed in LTU’s Engineering Building. He’s also looking for undergraduate students to assist in the research—ideally freshmen, so they’ll be able to continue with the project through its conclusion in late 2020. He said he plans to draw the students from LTU’s electrical and computer engineering, biomedical engineering, and nursing programs.

“Electrical and Computer Engineering is very proud of Dr. Xia’s achievement, and we are looking forward to the research and development opportunity it brings for our students,” said Nabih Jaber, associate professor and chair of the department. “The project will provide an opportunity for research evaluating the impact of the stresses on vessels. These kinds of experiments are hard to perform because current testing techniques leave the vessels vulnerable to damage. Dr. Xia’s proposed method will keep the vessels intact while testing the stresses they undergo.”

Added Yawen Li, chair of the LTU Department of Biomedical Engineering: “Biomedical engineering faculty and students are developing a variety of tissue engineered constructs such as the ligament, cartilage and blood vessels. We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Xia on using his innovative ultrasound technique to test the mechanical properties of these tissues.”

Xia, a native of China, earned a PhD in bioengineering from the University of Missouri – Columbia. He did postdoctoral training at several universities, including the University of Georgia, the University of Washington, and Wayne State University. He joined LTU as a senior lecturer in 2016 and was promoted to assistant professor in 2017.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 15 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.