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Grad Student's Research Helps Fight Against Heart Disease

Jimmy Su stands in his lab in the Biomedical Engineering building

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), it is estimated to cost "more than $503 billion in 2010, including health care expenditures and lost productivity from deaths and disability."

But Jimmy Su, a doctoral student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin and a recipient of a William Powers Jr. Graduate Fellowship, is hoping to make a dent in those numbers. Using combined ultrasound and photoacoustic imaging, Su's research goal is to help doctors detect and treat atherosclerotic plaques.

"There is still a long way to go in being able to effectively diagnose and treat the disease," he said. "Currently, doctors do not have the right tools to be able to image vulnerable plaque composition in the human body. Because of this, studies have shown that up to 66 percent of stents are improperly placed in one way or another. By improving the ability by which doctors can identify these plaques and more accurately place coronary stents in these locations, we hope that heart disease can be treated earlier and more efficiently."

Jimmy Su holds up a stent in his lab

Su holds up a coronary stent in his lab. Click image to enlarge.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Su wanted to come back to Austin for a couple of reasons.

"I chose UT because of the strong engineering background here," he said. "Although BME as a department is relatively new (compared to other engineering disciplines here), it began very strong and continues to grow both in quality of research and quantity of the excellent faculty members that join each year."

His other reason? "Having grown up in Austin since I was 2, I'm a bit partial to the Longhorns," he said.

Last year, Su was awarded a William Powers Jr. Graduate Fellowship from the Graduate School, one of the most prestigious fellowships offered. The fellowship has allowed him to advance his research and focus on completing his dissertation.

"By obtaining outside funding, my lab was able to allocate additional funds towards further research collaborations," Su said. "During this past year, we were able to conduct our first in-vivo animal experiments down at UT Health Science Center in Houston."

Additionally, Su participated in a business plan venture competition through the Office of Technology Commercialization with other engineering students and students from the McCombs School of Business.

Su completed his master's degree under the supervision of Dr. Jon Dingwell in the Department of Kinesiology. Since then, he has worked in Dr. Stanislav Emelianov's lab and plans to graduate in August. He hopes to find a research position that involves commercialization of new technologies.

"My desire is to continue to bring new and exciting imaging technologies to market," Su said. "This will require a greater collaboration between researchers, engineers and doctors who need these types of imaging tools ... it is exciting to see a project go from being just an idea, to a working prototype, to finally a useful tool that can benefit the lives of many people."