AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Elizabeth Lipke, an assistant professor in Auburn University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, has received a $400,000 grant through the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Faculty Early CAREER Development Program for her research designing engineered cardiac tissue and developing cardiac regeneration techniques.
Limited to a few individuals each year, the award recognizes outstanding college and university faculty members in the early stages of their careers and supports their research and outreach activities with funding for five years.
“Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States each year for both men and women,” Lipke said. “Through regenerative engineering we can improve the ability to repair damaged or diseased hearts and provide patients the opportunity for both a longer and potentially better quality of life.”
Her project, “Injectable Biomimetic Scaffolds to Direct Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocyte Differentiation,” includes designing injectable biomaterial scaffolds, which are templates for cell attachment and tissue formation, an essential aspect of cardiac regeneration. In Lipke’s research, these scaffolds are used to guide stem cells into becoming cardiomyocytes, the contracting cells that make up cardiac muscle, millions of which die following a heart attack.
“We are investigating how to give these cells the signals they need to progress from being immature cells to those that more closely resemble adult cardiac cells, particularly with respect to their electrical function,” Lipke said. “We want them to be able to integrate with existing cells so they can contribute to successfully regenerating heart tissue.”
Lipke’s research could offer improvements to tissue engineering strategies and provide insight to fundamental fields such as transport phenomena, electrical signal processing and developmental biology. As part of her CAREER plan, Lipke’s interdisciplinary project will include participation by health educators, such as cardiac nursing students, who are interested in cardiac regeneration research.
Outside the lab, Lipke’s team will continue mentoring undergraduate researchers and partner with Auburn’s Youth Experience in Science, or YES, camps and Getting Under the Surface, or GUTS, programs to expand opportunities for K-12 students to foster their interest in science and engineering careers.
“We are proud that Dr. Lipke’s cutting-edge work at the frontier of biomedical and regenerative engineering science has been recognized through this highly prestigious award from the National Science Foundation,” said Christopher Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “The award distinguishes not only Dr. Lipke’s exceptional and groundbreaking work, but it also illustrates the trajectory of our outstanding faculty, and the direction we want to take as a college.”
Lipke joined the Auburn faculty in 2008. She earned her doctorate in chemical engineering from Rice University in 2005 and received a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 2000. Lipke is the department’s third CAREER award recipient, following Mario Eden, department chair in chemical engineering, and Virginia Davis, the Sanders associate professor in chemical engineering, who received CAREER awards in 2006 and 2009, respectively.
(Written by Sally Credille.)