Skip to main content

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. 


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News