Cao takes second prize in the UC Grad Slam final

BioE graduate student explains her design for a scar-free heart stent

Yiqi Cao, a bioengineering PhD candidate in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, won the second-place prize in the University of California’s Grad Slam finals on May 3. Cao’s talk, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart… Again,” detailed a promising solution she developed for a heart stent that doesn’t trigger scar tissue buildup—all in three short, compelling minutes.

The UC Grad Slam, which began in 2015, challenges graduate students to explain their research to an audience of non-experts in just three minutes. Cao, who works in the lab of Tejal Desai, PhD, chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, took ​first place in UCSF’s campus-wide Grad Slam in March, and she competed against the respective first-place winners from the other nine UC campuses for the Grad Slam finals. Cao finished behind Joseph Charbonnet, from UC Berkeley, who earned first place.

The competition was emceed by UC President Janet Napolitano.

The subject of Cao’s talk, stents, are miniature tubes of metal scaffolding that are designed to open up clogged arteries in the heart, with the goal of preventing heart attacks. Unfortunately, excessive buildup of scar tissue around the stent can clog arteries right back up again, forcing millions of heart patients to replace their stents after just one year.

“Our bodies don’t always know what’s best for us, and they can get especially confused with medical implants,” Cao said. When stents are inserted into blood vessels, they create a tiny injury, she explained—but it’s the body’s response to the injury that causes more serious damage.

Cao altered the surface of the stent to make it harder for these cells to move around, like forcing a person to walk over stepping stones in a river instead of over a paved sidewalk. In preliminary tests, this modified stent successfully slowed the buildup of cells and scar tissue.

After her talk, Cao told Napolitano how her desire to help people led her from volunteering in homeless shelters and nursing homes as a high schooler to working on curing human disease to have a “bigger, scalable impact,” on the world.

Napolitano asked Cao where she sees herself in the next five to ten years, and Cao’s response reflected some of the success she’s had in the Desai Lab, designing the next generation of medical devices. “I am still open to a lot of paths,” she said, “but I would really love to work on something closer to a product, to continue my goal of curing or treating diseases.”



School of Pharmacy, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.