On an average day, at least 800 Americans will experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the 15 percent who survive, typical recovery includes surgeries, implants, medications, and lifestyle changes.

But what if something as ordinary as salt water could actually help heart tissue heal faster?

David “Ryan” King, a student in the Virginia Tech translational biology, medicine, and health (TBMH) graduate program at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, has won a National Institutes of Health (NIH) individual research fellowship to support his doctoral research on the development of paradigms to improve outcomes following cardiac arrest. This competitive fellowship will fund his research for two years.

“Ryan is one of the hardest working, brightest, and most dedicated students who I have had the pleasure to have in a graduate program,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director for the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and vice-president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. “As one of the founders of the TBMH graduate program at Virginia Tech, I can attest that Ryan is exactly the type of student we hoped who would matriculate in our program - one who embraces science, is fearless of uncertainty, and who is absolutely committed to discovery and translation of that discovery at the interface of leading-edge science and medicine. His success is also indicative of the high-caliber training opportunities that our faculty, such as Dr. Steve Poelzing, offer students who study under their tutelage here at the research institute.”

King, who was recently appointed a student representative to Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors, is the fifth TBMH graduate student training at the research institute to receive an NIH individual predoctoral fellowship.

Mentored by Poelzing, an associate professor in the institute’s Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research and Virginia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, King is examining how sodium concentrations in intravenous saline fluids influence cardiac function following injury.

The IV fluids commonly used in hospitals today were invented in 1832. Since then, researchers have learned that even small variations in sodium levels can greatly impact the heart’s electrical rhythms and mechanics.

King sees this as an opportunity.

“The goal of my research is to lay the foundation for creating new, low-cost, IV fluids that are optimized to improve overall heart function and survival rates following cardiac arrest,” said King, who was also awarded this year’s Michael J. Quillen Leadership Scholarship through Virginia Tech.

Earlier this year, Poelzing and King filed a patent for a new perfusion fluid based on their findings. King’s continued research in this area examines the heart’s mechanical and metabolic function following perfusion using cardiac optical mapping methods.

A native of Gastonia, North Carolina, King earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a post-baccalaureate program in pre-health at Meredith College. King was in the select inaugural group of Health Sciences and Technology Commercialization Fellows at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. He expects to complete his doctoral degree in April 2021.

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