Mending hearts

FORT COLLINS — Colorado State University’s Lakshmi Prasad Dasi wants to find a solution.

His work focuses on the human heart, something that most consider strictly biological in nature, but as a mechanical engineer, Dasi believes that the heart is a mechanical organ, and applying his field of study can help find solutions to the problems that plague one of the most crucial organs in the body.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India, and Georgia Institute of Technology, Dasi came to CSU in 2009 to take a position as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. He has since established a lab for cardiovascular research and is the principal investigator on a $1.8 million grant from National Institutes of Health.

The five-year grant is funding research on synthetic heart valves that will circumvent many of the issues with existing mechanical and tissue-based replacement valves.

Along with Susan James, head of the mechanical engineering department and Ketul Popat, another associate professor in the department, Dasi is investigating new valves made from a synthetic material that contains hyaluronan, a molecule found in soft tissue. James received a proof-of-concept award for the material from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

With other mechanical synthetic valves, anti-clotting drugs must be taken for the remainder of the patient’s life, according to Dasi. Replacement valves made from other tissue tend to harden over time, usually lasting only 10 or 15 years, he said.

The team’s goal is to create a valve that will avoid both of these problems. Progress is under way on research, but in preliminary stages. The grant was awarded in August.

Eventually, the team will work with CSU veterinary cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Christopher Orton to implant the valves in sheep and pigs as part of pre-clinical evaluation.