Byunggik (Jason) Kim, a fourth-year doctoral student in mechanical engineering, has been awarded a predoctoral fellowship by the American Heart Association. This two-year fellowship, worth $29,144 per year, will support Kim’s innovative research project titled “Human iPSC-derived cardiac microphysiological system with sympathetic innervation.”

Under the guidance of Deok-Ho Kim, a professor of biomedical engineering with a secondary appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Center for Microphysiological Systems, Kim’s study aims to advance understanding of Arrhythmogenic Cardiomyopathy (ACM), a hereditary heart condition that significantly contributes to sudden cardiac deaths among individuals under 35, especially athletes.

“The heart is one of the most mechanically challenging and complex organs,” Kim said, “and ACM’s complexity combined with the inadequacy of current treatments highlight the urgent need for novel therapeutic approaches.”

Kim’s research focuses on the role of sympathetic neurons in cardiac electrophysiology, employing a groundbreaking microphysiological tissue model. This model, which combines cardiac organoids and sympathetic neurons from both healthy subjects and those with ACM, is equipped with a self-adapting stretchable 3D microelectrode array. This setup allows for a exploration of the electrophysiological dynamics within the heart, offering potential insights into innovative treatments.

Kim likened the heart to a band where each cell is a musician playing in harmony, with ACM representing the out-of-tune notes disrupting the symphony.

“My work seeks to identify the ‘wrong notes’ played by heart cells and the influence of neuronal signals, aiming to correct these to restore harmony,” he said.

In addition to the AHA predoctoral fellowship, Kim was selected as a finalist for the LUSH Prize Young Researcher Award for his research work to support animal-free research.