Rebecca L. Heise, Ph.D. profile photo

Rebecca L. Heise, Ph.D.

Inez A. Caudill Professor and Undergraduate Program Director, Department of Biomedical Engineering | B.S. Chemical Engineering, B.S. Biomedical and Health Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University | Ph.D. Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh

Engineering Research Building, Room 3326, Richmond, VA, UNITED STATES

Professor Heise studies pulmonary mechanotransduction, including lung injury and pulmonary regenerative medicine





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Dr. Heise is an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She holds an affiliate appointment in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at VCU and is a member of the Massey Cancer Center and the Johnson Center for Critical Care and Pulmonary Research. She earned her B.S. in chemical engineering with an additional major in Biomedical and Health Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003. She then earned her PhD in bioengineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 2008. She then did her postdoctoral work in the Laboratory of Respiratory Biology at the NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, NC. She joined the faculty of Biomedical Engineering at VCU in 2010. Dr. Heise’s research focuses on pulmonary mechanobiology and regenerative medicine. She seeks to understand how the mechanical environment in the lung influences cellular behavior in health and disease with in vitro and in vivo models. Dr. Heise also researches the use of naturally-derived extracellular matrix as a biomaterial for cell and drug delivery to the lung. She has been awarded an R01 from the National Institute of Aging to study the effects of ventilator induced lung injury on inflammatory cell signaling, and she has earned a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to study cell-ECM interactions in pulmonary fibrosis.

Industry Expertise

  • Research
  • Education/Learning

Areas of Expertise

Lung injuryPulmonary regenerative medicineMechanobiologyTissue EngineeringSmooth muscle cell signalingCellular biomechanics


University of Pittsburgh

Ph.D., Bioengineering


Carnegie Mellon University

B.S., Biomedical and Health Engineering


Carnegie Mellon University

B.S., Chemical Engineering


Media Appearances

Study of Lung Function Sheds Light on Ventilator-Induced Lung Injuries in Elderly Patients

NewsWise  online


Newswise — Athens, Ga. – Mechanical ventilation can be a lifesaver for patients suffering from lung disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and pneumonia. Unfortunately, the use of ventilators to support breathing can cause further lung injury, particularly in elderly patients. Now, a team of researchers at the University of Georgia and Virginia Commonwealth University has developed a computer model to help scientists better understand changes in lung function and respiratory mechanics as people age. They say their work could lead to improved treatment protocols for patients requiring mechanical ventilation. The study was published yesterday in the journal PLOS ONE. Co-authors of the study are Rebecca Heise, an associate professor in the department of biomedical engineering at VCU; Angela Reynolds, an associate professor in the department of mathematics and applied mathematics at VCU; and JongWon Kim, a research associate in the UGA College of Engineering.

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Understanding disease states through math



As we age, our lungs, tissues and airways are changing and becoming more sensitive. We think that for elderly patients, those changes may play a role in the inflammatory response and how well they respond to ventilation. So our models account for the effects of aging. For this work I am collaborating with experts in engineering and medicine, including Rebecca Heise, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the VCU School of Engineering; Ramana Pidaparti, Ph.D., professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering in the VCU School of Engineering; and Kevin Ward, M.D., formerly with the VCU School of Medicine and now faculty at the University of Michigan...

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Research Grants

CAREER: Propagation of Lung Fibrosis through Mechanotransduction CMMI-135162

National Science Foundation

Studying mechanotransduction of alveolar epithelial cells leading to pulmonary fibrosis.

Age Dependent Mechanical Ventilator-Induced Inflammation: Modeling and Experiments 1R01AG041823-01A1 (MPI)

National Institutes of Health

Studying mechanotransduction of aging cells in the lung.


EGRB 511 Cell Mechanics and Mechanobiology

Taught Spring Semesters

Selected Articles

Conservative fluid management prevents age-associated ventilator induced mortality

Experimental Gerontology

• 4 h mechanical ventilation causes lung injury and death in elderly mice.
• The effect is strongly blunted in young subjects or by using a low tidal volume.
• Pulmonary edema was hypothesized as an upstream mechanism of this mortality.
• A novel conservative fluid protocol was proposed to attenuate these effects.
• Conservative fluid support significantly decreased edema and mortality in old mice.

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Development and characterization of a naturally derived lung extracellular matrix hydrogel

Journal of Biomedical Materials Research

The complexity and rapid clearance mechanisms of lung tissue make it difficult to develop effective treatments for many chronic pathologies. We are investigating lung derived extracellular matrix (ECM) hydrogels as a novel approach for delivery of cellular therapies to the pulmonary system. The main objectives of this study include effective decellularization of porcine lung tissue, development of a hydrogel from the porcine ECM, and characterization of the material's composition, mechanical properties, and ability to support cellular growth. Our evaluation of the decellularized tissue indicated successful removal of cellular material and immunogenic remnants in the ECM. The self-assembly of the lung ECM hydrogel was rapid, reaching maximum modulus values within 3 min at 37°C. Rheological characterization showed the lung ECM hydrogel to have a concentration dependent storage modulus between 15 and 60 Pa. The purpose of this study was to evaluate our novel ECM derived hydrogel and measure its ability to support 3D culture of MSCs in vitro and in vivo delivery of MSCs. Our in vitro experiments using human mesenchymal stem cells demonstrated our novel ECM hydrogel's ability to enhance cellular attachment and viability. Our in vivo experiments demonstrated that rat MSC delivery in pre-gel solution significantly increased cell retention in the lung over 24 h in an emphysema rat model. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A: 104A: 1922–1935, 2016.

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From here to there, progenitor cells and stem cells are everywhere in lung vascular remodeling

Frontiers in Pediatrics

The field of stem cell biology, cell therapy, and regenerative medicine has expanded almost exponentially, in the last decade. Clinical trials are evaluating the potential therapeutic use of stem cells in many adult and pediatric lung diseases with vascular component, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), or pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Extensive research activity is exploring the lung resident and circulating progenitor cells and their contribution to vascular complications of chronic lung diseases, and researchers hope to use resident or circulating stem/progenitor cells to treat chronic lung diseases and their vascular complications. It is becoming more and more clear that progress in mechanobiology will help to understand the various influences of physical forces and extracellular matrix composition on the phenotype and features of the progenitor cells and stem cells. The current review provides an overview of current concepts in the field.

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