University of Texas at Austin


Willerson Center Graduate Student Awarded AHA Fellowship

By Rebecca Riley

Published Jan. 13, 2023

Natalie Simonian

Natalie Simonian, a graduate student at the Oden Institute's Willerson Center for Cardiovascular Modelling and Simulation, has been awarded a Predoctoral Fellowship from the American Heart Association (AHA). 

The AHA offers this opportunity to enhance the research and clinical training of aspiring professionals in a predoctoral or clinical health degree. The fellowship will help support Natalie’s work on predictive simulations of cardiac surgery, providing her with an annual stipend and funds to travel to a research conference. 

Natalie’s research is in developing 3D models of patients' heart valves from ultrasound imaging. From these models, she can simulate potential repair procedures for those patients to see how they  will be doing in six months or a year. With the help of these simulations, clinicians can decide what is best for each patient before they even begin their procedure.

“It’s a huge honor to receive this fellowship,” said Natalie. “To me, it underscores how crucial this research is for the cardiac field and the urgency of the need that it's meeting. It's really great to hear back from an official clinical organization that, hey, the work you're doing is going to be impactful to us and it is going to be helpful for us.”

The funds that her fellowship will provide allows Natalie even more agency with her work, opening up new opportunities for her. 

“It frees up funding for our lab to pursue other things or to dedicate more to the project,” she explained. “It just kind of gives everybody a little bit of breathing room, which is wonderful.”

After graduation, Natalie plans to go into industry in a clinical facing position where she will be able to continue interfacing with doctors.