BME’s Perla Ayala Receives NSF CAREER Award

Published February 2, 2022

Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Perla Ayala is the recipient of a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to support her research into vascularization in cardiac fibrosis models. She is the first CSULB College of Engineering faculty member to receive this prestigious National Science Foundation distinction.

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Perla Ayala
The award supports early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

“The CAREER grant is the most prestigious award given by NSF to early career faculty,” said COE Dean Jinny Rhee. “We are beyond proud to have a recipient among our ranks.” 

Ayala will use the grant to investigate a tissue-engineered approach to vascular repair of damaged cardiac fibrotic tissue. She will research effective therapies for heart disease patients, incorporating training to broaden the participation of women and students from underrepresented backgrounds in science and engineering, eventually helping to diversify America's science and engineering workforce. 

In applying for the grant, Ayala noted that heart failure persists as a major healthcare issue because of its high prevalence, mortality, morbidity, and the cost of care. After injury, lost heart cells are replaced by a fibrotic scar that has limited ability to form blood vessels, which contributes to progression of disease.

"This is a great honor and an excellent opportunity that will enable us to pursue our research goals and to involve CSULB students in these types of projects," she said.

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Dr. Perla Ayala
Undergraduate and graduate students' involvement in the project is key. "I look forward to integrating education and research training as part of the project objectives,” said Ayala, who has served as a BUILD mentor. “I plan to work with our graduate and undergraduate students to achieve these goals."

Ayala joined the Biomedical Engineering Department in Fall 2016 as the new department’s first full-time hire. “The Biomedical Engineering Department is thrilled that Dr. Ayala has received an NSF CAREER award and fully supports her research and educational goals,” said Chair Shadnaz Asgari. “This great achievement is inspiring to both faculty and students, especially those from groups underrepresented in STEM.”

After obtaining her Ph.D in Bioengineering in 2011 from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Ayala worked as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Her research focuses on developing therapeutic systems that promote optimal healing, applying a multidisciplinary approach to create engineered tissues, and cohesive drug delivery platforms for applications in the clinic. While working on her Ph.D in Bioengineering from University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco, Ayala developed bioengineered microstructures for cardiac repair that improve cardiac functional outcomes after a heart attack in the rat model. Recently, she engineered a stem-cell-laden composite tissue system for applications in tissue regeneration that promotes angiogenesis and modulation of the immune response.