University of Virginia biomedical engineering student is trying to tackle the world’s No. 1 cause of death on a genetic level.
Rita Anane-Wae, from Ghana by way of Glendale, Arizona, and a third-year biomedical engineering student, is using a 2019 Harrison Undergraduate Research grant to seek a genetic solution to atherosclerosis, or the build-up of plaque in one’s arteries, which impedes blood flow.
“There are cells that will try to fix this problem by covering them and basically pushing the plaque down to allow blood flow,” she said. “These cells will try to reduce that plaque so that there is correct blood flow. In very serious cases, the plaque can harden and break off. Once it breaks, it can get lodged somewhere and cause a stroke or a heart attack.”
Created through a gift from the late David A. Harrison III and his family, the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards fund outstanding undergraduate research projects. Selected by a faculty review committee, awardees receive as much as $4,000 apiece to pursue their research interests, under the direction of a faculty mentor.
Anane-Wae started working in a laboratory run by Mete Civelek, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, as a second-year student.
Civelek had already altered her life. Anane-Wae came to UVA to be a chemical engineer. She met Civelek when she signed up as a first-year student for a program that offered faculty mentoring.
“At the time I was a chemical engineering major with an interest in biomedical engineering,” Anane-Wae said. “After talking with him, he was able to assuage my fears about biomedical engineering.
“Biomedical engineering is a relatively new field and as such, I did not believe there were many jobs out there, and my parents were worried for the same reason,” she said. “Mete has a chemical engineering undergrad degree and a master’s and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, so he was the perfect person for me to talk to. He explained the two fields in a unique way, unlike what I had read and seen on YouTube.
“Honestly, I love biomedical engineering. When I switched into biomedical engineering, literally in my first class, I though ‘Oh, my God, this is home.’ I am learning about anatomy, physiology, genes and cells, and it is still all really exciting for me.”