WPI's Billiar to investigate link between cell death, calcification and heart valve disease

Worcester Polytechnic Institute researcher and BMES Fellow Kristen Billiar has been awarded a $154,000 grant from the American Heart Association to determine how cell death leads to calcium deposits in heart tissue that cause aortic valves to fail, the university announced.
The two-year project will involve laboratory experiments with cells grown in flat and three-dimensional shapes, and it will aim to discover ways to interrupt the process that leads to calcification and heart valve disease, according to the announcement.

The incidence and severity of aortic valve calcifications increase with age, and there is no way to cure the disease. Instead, a patient typically undergoes surgery to repair or replace the valve.
“We don't know why calcific nodules form, but one of the things correlated with it is programmed cell death,” Billiar said in the announcement. Billiar is a professor and head of the department of biomedical engineering. “We can use engineering techniques in reproducible experiments and see calcium depositing in cells like it does in valves. Now we want to know, what are the mechanisms involved in that?”

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