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Taber wins Skalak award for third time, makes history

Larry Taber, the Dennis and Barbara Kessler Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, and four co-authors received the 2015 Richard Skalak Award for the best paper published in 2014 in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering.

Larry Taber

He is the only award recipient to have won the award three times in the 25 times it has been given. Taber also received the award in 2004 and 2007.

The late George Zahalak former professor of mechanical engineering, won the award in 1991 and 1999.

The paper, titled "Bending of the looping heart: Differential growth revisited" was published in the August 2014 issue of the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering. Taber's co-authors were Yunfei Shi, PhD, who earned a doctorate in biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at WashU in 2014; Jiang Yao, PhD, biomechanics application specialist at Dassault Systemès Simulia Corp.; Gang Xu, DSc, who earned master's and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering from WashU and is now an assistant professor of engineering and physics at the University of Central Oklahoma; and Elliot Elson, PhD, the Alumni Endowed Professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Washington University School of Medicine.

The group's paper focuses on cardiac looping, as the primitive heart tube deforms into a c-shaped tube in early embryos. The mechanism that causes the heart tube to bend had remained poorly understood despite nearly a century of study. Taber and his team conducted experiments with embryonic chick hearts and developed cylindrical computational models to simulate the bending process in isolated hearts. They then developed another model based on realistic 3-D geometry reconstructed from images of a chick heart. Their study found that differential hypertrophic growth in the myocardium is the primary cause of the bending component of looping, with other mechanisms possibly playing lesser roles.

The 2013 Richard Skalak Award went to a paper by a WashU team titled "Elastic Characterization of Transversely Isotropic Soft Materials by Dynamic Shear and Asymmetric Indentation." Co-authors were Ravi Namani, a former postdoctoral research associate at WashU; Nithya Jesuraj, PhD, who earned master's and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering at WashU; Guy M. Genin, professor of mechanical engineering; Philip V. Bayly, the Lilyan and E. Lisle Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Shelly E. Sakiyama-Elbert, professor of biomedical engineering; Yuan Feng, who earned a doctorate in mechanical engineering at WashU in 2012; and Ruth J. Okamoto, senior research associate in mechanical engineering.

The 2005 Richard Skalak Award went to a paper by a WashU team titled "Effect of combined cyclic stretch and fluid shear stress on endothelial cell morphological responses." Co-authors were Tomas Owatverot, DSc, who earned a doctorate in biomedical engineering at WashU in 2002; Sara Oswald, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees from WashU in mechanical engineering and is now staff research associate in biomedical engineering; Yong Chen, PhD, who earned a master's and a doctorate in biomedical engineering at WashU; Jeremiah J. Wille, who earned a doctorate in biomedical engineering at WashU in 2006; and Frank Yin, PhD, the Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering and former chair of the department.

The Richard Skalak Award is named after an early leader within the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Bioengineering community. Skalak (1923–1997) played a leadership role in the formative decades of the discipline of biomedical engineering through his technical contributions in biomechanics, his educational influence on students, and his service to many developing societies and journals.


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The mechanism that causes the heart tube to bend had remained poorly understood despite nearly a century of study.