COVID-19: For information related to COVID-19 (formerly referred to as “novel coronavirus"), visit

VCU Massey Cancer Center


VCU funding support helps move research forward

[View Image]
Rebecca Heise works with Sagar Patel, a biomedical engineering graduate student. Photo by Doug Buerlein.

As a kid, Rebecca L. Heise, Ph.D., was always getting into trouble mixing things in the kitchen or taking toys apart to see how they worked. She always loved experiments.

That curiosity remained a constant through her life and ultimately blossomed into a research career in biomedical engineering.

In her lab, Heise, who is a research program member at VCU Massey Cancer Center and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, aims to understand how cells within the lung sense and respond to their mechanical environment in healthy and diseased lungs.

“I love lung research in particular because there are so many interesting questions to be answered that will have a big impact on people’s health,” she said.

In one ongoing study, Heise is looking at how mechanical ventilation influences lung response in elderly patients. By studying lung disease states such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pulmonary fibrosis and ventilator-induced lung injury, Heise and her team hope to one day be able to inform intensive care unit (ICU) physicians how to adjust ventilator setting for the elderly so that no additional injury is caused.

In 2011, Heise’s research received an initial boost through the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund, or PeRQ fund, formerly the Presidential Research Incentive Program. The PeRQ Fund provides internal funding opportunities to researchers at all points in their careers across VCU to help expand their research and scholarship endeavors.

The support Heise received through the PeRQ fund helped launch the next chapter of her work.

The award enabled Heise to gather preliminary data that she used to apply for external funding through the National Institute of Aging. She has also been able to use that data for subsequent pending federal award applications, and it has provided support for two undergraduate students to work in her laboratory.

“Opportunities like the PeRQ show that VCU is committed to developing new research projects that can compete for external funding,” Heise said.

The NIH-funded project, which is co-led by Heise’s colleague, Angela Reynolds, Ph.D., assistant professor from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, includes several other distinguished faculty from various disciplines across the university, including Ramana Pidaparti, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering in the VCU School of Engineering; Alpha Fowler III, M.D., professor and chair of the Division of Pulmonary Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine; and Kevin Ward, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan.


Written by: Alaina Schneider

Posted on: March 11, 2014

Category: Center news & funding

View graphic versionView graphic versionView graphic version