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Biomedical Engineering Professor Receives Grant to Research Cholesterol-Associated Disease

Zhongkui Hong, Ph.D., in his lab wearing a white coat. Zhongkui Hong, Ph.D., received a grant from the NIH to research atherosclerosis and its role as one of the leading causes of global death.

VERMILLION S.D. – University of South Dakota researcher and assistant professor in the biomedical engineering program, Zhongkui Hong, Ph.D., has received a grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for his research in combatting atherosclerosis and its role as one of the leading causes of global death. Hong’s lab will use the grant to run three different tests to observe adhesion, migration and phenotypic shifting of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) and how it plays a key role in the progression of this cholesterol-associated disease.

“We anticipate moving closer to designing therapeutic treatments targeting more specific adhesion molecules of VSMCs," said Hong. "The goal is to prevent, arrest and/or reverse the process of atherosclerosis.”

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque, which is made up of calcium, cholesterol and fat, inside of your arteries. This buildup limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs in the body and can lead to serious problems such as heart attack, stroke or death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year (1 in every 4 deaths).

Hong plans to not only come closer to solving the puzzle that is atherosclerosis, but sees this research as an opportunity to grow the Department of Biomedical Engineering at USD.

“This study will also strengthen undergraduate student research in biomedical engineering at the University of South Dakota,” Hong said. “Through this undergraduate participation, students will gain substantial knowledge, skills and experience in biomedical research, which will serve them for their future career development.”

The next step in Hong’s research is to study the effect of cellular cholesterol on VSMC adhesion and mechanics in atherosclerosis animal models to fully understand the mechanical contribution of VSMCs in the development of atherosclerosis. 

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