Long Beach

Heart Stents and Landfill Gases Research Improve Lives One Molecule at a Time




​As a child growing up in a small city in China, Dr. Fangyuan Tian spent most of her summers in rural areas fishing and camping with her father. Rocks and the smell of wildflowers fascinated her. 

“We are not creating new things to change the world,” Dr. Tian said, quoting her father. “Instead, we are always discovering and learning from nature.” That was her first science lesson. 

That casual conversation piqued her interest in biochemistry, but she didn’t foresee a career in designing functional materials inspired by the natural world. Her love of nature and fanciful thoughts of becoming a nature explorer have led Tian to explore two areas of bio-inspired research that have the potential to improve the lives of thousands. 

“You want to do more research that impacts more people,” said Tian, an assistant professor of chemistry in Cal State Long Beach’s chemistry and biochemistry department. 

One of her passions is developing a safe, effective and affordable material that could help more than half a million heart patients each year. Inspired by a natural iron supplement, she has researched for the past four years a biodegradable coating for stents that would slowly release medicine into the patient following surgery without flaking. 

A $278,000 award from the National Science Foundation and a $15,000 award from the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) have supported her research. 

Stents are mesh tubes that permanently prop open a clogged artery, reducing the chance of heart attacks. Biodegradable stents were developed in the 1990s with polymeric, metallic or combination scaffolding, possibly coated with an anti-proliferative drug or gene, all of which degrade over time. 

Tian discovered, though, that some initial drug-eluting stents were covered in a polymer that could flake off, create inflammation and possibly trigger a blockage in other parts of the body. 

Her work aims to create a biodegradable coating that will release anti-proliferative and cholesterol-fighting drugs to prevent cholesterol buildup for people battling heart disease. 

About 647,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, and about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

​​​“We have developed an iron-containing porous thin film, which can be potentially used as a degradable polymer-free stent coating for a controlled drug release,” she said. “This material is different from other drug-eluting stent coatings, which are polymer based.” 

Tian’s other research interest centers on solving environmental and energy-related issues. These two disparate research areas may seem unrelated to each other, but she sees it differently. 

She is exploring effective and more efficient new biodegradable materials—similar to the materials used in stents—to benefit the landfill industry. Landfills are the third-largest source (14.1 percent) of human-related methane emissions in the country. Researchers see this as a lost opportunity to capture a significant energy resource. 

In 2017, Tian received a $100,000 grant from the Environmental Research and Education Foundation to support her proposal titled, “Renewable Energy From Waste: A Study of Landfill Gas Purification by Hybrid Porous Materials.” 

In this project, Tian discovered a hybrid porous material that can absorb carbon dioxide, separating it from methane. In doing so, she found a way to more effectively and affordably filter gases that are released as the landfill waste decomposes. The gas (methane) could be burned to generate electricity and then be provided to local power grids.