Maria Holland, assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, has received the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health.
The award, which provides up to $250,000 annually for five years, will enable Holland and her Computational Mechanics of Morphology (CoMManND) lab to expand work on the mechanical implications of inflammatory swelling.
Swelling and inflammation are related to immune activity, but the relationship is by no means straightforward. Dramatic swelling could reduce the effectiveness of immune cells, according to Holland. Her MIRA-funded research will look at the ways in which swelling both indicates and affects immune activity.
“A pediatrician friend told me that ear infections get worse at night because the pressure in your ears increases when you lie down,” said Holland, when explaining the inspiration for her MIRA research.
“I started thinking about inflammation and how tissues swell. If they’re constrained physically by surrounding tissues, they might not be able to expand, and the inflammation would generate pressure, which could cause pain.”
Holland’s research group will develop novel computational models of inflammation and swelling that allow for variations in cell behavior and type and account for mechanical interactions between the swelling tissue and surrounding tissues.
Holland joined Notre Dame faculty in 2017 after completing her Ph.D. at Stanford University. In 2022, she received the National Science Foundation CAREER award to advance her biomechanics-informed research on variations in cerebral cortex thickness.