Innovation and Inspiration: Dr. Tefft’s Vision for Heart Health Science and Education

Brandon J. Tefft, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Marquette University-Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been honored with the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This distinguished recognition, totaling more than $570,000 to develop research and education programs, underscores his commitment to advancing scientific innovation and education.

The NSF CAREER program aims to cultivate leaders in both research and education. Dr. Tefft’s achievement in securing the grant reflects his dedication to pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery while imparting knowledge to future generations of engineers and scientists.

A dynamic figure in the field of biomedical engineering, Dr. Tefft specializes in cardiovascular regenerative engineering. As the director of the Cardiovascular Regenerative Engineering Laboratory (CaRE Lab), he leads groundbreaking research initiatives aimed at addressing critical challenges in cardiovascular medicine. His expertise spans cardiovascular device design, tissue-engineered vascular grafts, tissue-engineered heart valves and biomedical nanotechnology.

His CAREER project, titled, “Origami-inspired design for a tissue-engineered heart valve,” heralds a paradigm shift in the field of cardiovascular medicine. Children born with congenital heart defects often face a lifetime of surgeries due to the limitations of current artificial heart valve substitutes, which fail to grow and adapt alongside the growing heart.

Dr. Tefft’s pioneering approach leverages origami-inspired design principles to engineer living heart valve replacements from degradable scaffold materials. By incorporating stem cells derived from a patient’s umbilical cord blood, Dr. Tefft aims to create a growing heart valve that offers superior structure and function.

He has partnered with Joy Lincoln, PhD, professor and associate chief of pediatric cardiology, in this effort, leveraging her expertise and the resources of the congenital heart disease tissue bank at the Herma Heart Institute of Children’s Wisconsin to further the project’s potential to develop a groundbreaking tissue-engineered heart valve.

The significance of this research extends far beyond the laboratory walls. Dr. Tefft’s innovative approach holds the promise of reducing the need for repeat surgeries, alleviating the burden on patients and healthcare systems. Moreover, by developing a deeper understanding of regenerative tissue engineering principles, his work has the potential to revolutionize treatment options for individuals with congenital heart defects, enhancing their quality of life and long-term outcomes.

In alignment with the NSF’s commitment to fostering scientific literacy and engagement, Dr. Tefft also intends to use the CAREER award to spearhead educational outreach programs in the Milwaukee area. Through initiatives such as the “Science in the News” seminar series and the “Origami-based Engineering Design Challenge,” Dr. Tefft aims to spark curiosity and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The “Science in the News” seminar series will provide a platform for scientists to discuss their research with the public, fostering dialogue about the accuracy of media portrayals of scientific advancements.

Through hands-on activities like the origami engineering design challenge, a partnership with student groups at Marquette University, Dr. Tefft aims to introduce middle school students to the principles of engineering and to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM fields.

“We thought origami would be a fun and approachable way for middle school kids to learn how to solve engineering design challenges,” Dr. Tefft says. “By folding paper into functional structures through the art of origami, we aim to demonstrate how this creative approach can inspire engineering design using the example of a prosthetic heart valve, which relates back to the research side of the project.”

As Dr. Tefft continues his groundbreaking project, he remains steadfast in his commitment to transparency and engagement. Despite being in the early stages, he welcomes individuals to delve deeper into the research, encouraging them to learn more and to actively participate.

“I hope patients can benefit from what we’re doing, and I hope people take an interest in what we're doing,” he says.

Share This Story

Read more about