Highlighting Devin Laurence

Devin Laurence received his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in May of 2018, he then obtained his master’s degree the following year. Since then, Laurence has continued his journey at OU by pursuing a Ph.D. with a research focus on cardiovascular biomechanics. He has earned many awards for his work including The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and The American Heart Association/Children’s Heart Foundation (AHA/CHF) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

Devin with his current device in the Biomechanics and Biomaterials Design Lab (BBDL)

Laurence said Dr. Lee helped him to discover his interests in research during his junior year of undergrad. Laurence said he, “started to work with Dr. Lee and realized he did some exciting research.” He was interested in applying things they learned in class to aspects of the biomedical field. Eventually, he was hooked.

With the completion of his undergraduate mechanical engineering degree and his involvement in the accelerated master’s program, he was able to transition easily into graduate school, which allowed him to focus more on the biomedical side of mechanical engineering. As he began work in the Biomechanics and Biomaterials Design Lab (BBDL), he found his passion. He really liked how “you could pursue whatever you wanted because there was so much intellectual freedom.” He said, “you’re always motivated to search new avenues and get into stuff you probably never would’ve expected.”

Presently, Laurence is taking everything he learned in his mechanical engineering undergrad and applying it to biomedical systems. He, “mechanically characterizes the heart valve leaflets and then can do things like simulate the heart function or look at the different aspects of the leaflets.” Part of his dissertation work involves studying how the heart adapts to diseases. So “if you have increased pressure in your heart, how do these structures thicken or become stiffer in response?”

Laurence is “currently designing and constructing a novel planar biaxial bioreactor system (known in his lab as the BioBiax) to characterize the cell-mediated growth and remodeling of the tricuspid heart valve leaflets. The system includes two key components: (i) the planar biaxial testing component (shown in the picture above) and (ii) a flow loop to continuously supply cell media to the tissue to maintain cell viability (under construction). Throughout 2021, Laurence will use this system to characterize how the tricuspid valve leaflets respond to pathological conditions. The tricuspid valve leaflets will be mounted to the system, cyclically loaded/unloaded for 1-2 weeks to the pathological loading, and then characterized to understand how the leaflets have changed due to the pathological loading. Data from these experiments will enable them to establish a new mechanistic constitutive model that can predict the tricuspid valve leaflet mechanical behavior and consider the cell-mediated growth and remodeling response to the pathological loading. The new model then can be employed  in computer simulations to better understand the role of the cell-mediated growth and remodeling in congenital heart diseases, such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, or in the recurrence of tricuspid regurgitation following the clinical repair in adult patients.”

Logo created courtesy of Ryan Bodlak

Laurence’s favorite part about OU is the people and opportunities. He said, “he really enjoys everyone in the department.” Collaborating with the BME department and the Health Science Center has been a great experience for him. He said, “it’s a really interesting hub that you wouldn’t expect.”

After he receives his Ph.D., his goal is to become a faculty member. He said, “it can either be doing a postdoc right after [he] graduates or getting a little industry experience first,” but eventually, he knows he wants to be in academia.

Laurence believes that students should not be afraid to try anything. “You never know what you’re going to enjoy or what doors are going to open up.”

Below is a full list of all the awards Laurence has received so far:

  • American Heart Association/Children’s Heart Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship
  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship
  • Second Place Winner at 2020 SB3C Ph.D.-Level Student Paper Competition
  • First Place Winner at 2019 SB3C M.S.-Level Student Paper Competition
  • Thomas Milam, Sr., Endowed Fellowship
  • OU Alumni and Foundation Recruitment Fellowship
  • OU GCoE Ph.D. Recruitment Excellence Fellowship
  • First-Place Poster Award at the 3rd OU-OUHSC Biomedical Engineering Symposium
  • Grand Prize Recipient at Oklahoma Research Day at the Capitol

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