Biomedical engineering professor in joint Marquette, MCW department receives NSF CAREER award to develop a heart valve that grows with patient

Dr. Brandon J. Tefft, assistant professor in the Marquette University and Medical College of Wisconsin Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER award with an anticipated value of $572,770 to produce a growing heart valve that can reduce the need for repeat surgery for individuals with congenital heart valve defects.

The goal of this project, “CAREER: Origami-inspired design for a tissue engineered heart valve,” will be to address valve durability obstacles present in current valve replacement options. This approach will engineer a degradable scaffold for generating living heart valve replacements based on an origami-inspired design. Tefft will then populate the scaffold using cells derived from host umbilical cord blood, which can be engineered to develop into the types of cells normally found in human heart valves.

“Children born with congenital heart defects often require repeat valve replacement over a lifetime, as the original valve replacement does not grow over time with the size of the heart of its host,” Tefft said. “Our aim with this award is to use a novel origami-inspired approach to engineer a degradable scaffold for generating living heart valve replacements. We hope to produce a growing heart valve solution superior to current prostheses in structure and function, thereby reducing the need for repeat surgery as the patient grows.”

“As a research leader, Dr. Tefft successfully bridges the expertise of Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin to make a real difference locally and in the broader field of biomedical engineering” said Dr. Kristina Ropella, Opus Dean of the Opus College of Engineering. “This project will serve patients, families and communities, both in the heart valve innovation and in the efforts to inspire future STEM minds in Milwaukee.”

This award is also intended to increase the visibility and reputation of scientific innovation and discovery to students in the Milwaukee area. In line with the award’s objective of sponsoring faculty positioned to grow the visibility of science-based engineering advancements in an educational setting, Tefft will support the development of various educational outreach programs in the Milwaukee area, including an origami engineering challenge and a “Science in the News” seminar series, which are expected to be held in middle schools and public libraries.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from early-career faculty at all CAREER-eligible organizations and especially encourages women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities to apply.