A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, results from blockage of arteries that deliver oxygen-carrying blood to heart tissue (NIH). Once the cells of the affected region die, the heart’s wall may grow so thin that it ruptures, or the heart’s force of contraction can decrease to the point that it is nonfunctional. Heart failure is a major medical problem for both patients and physicians. In the United States alone, approximately 5.7 million people 20 years or older had heart failure, according to data collected between 2009 and 2012. Moreover, there is approximately a fifty percent probability of death within 5 years of diagnosis (Mozaffarian et al., 2016). Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels from preexisting ones (Robich, Chu, Oyamada, Sodha, & Sellke, 2011), is a key process to delaying the progression of heart failure. Angiogenesis helps heal damaged heart tissue by restoring blood flow, and scientists have worked to investigate and stimulate this process because of its beneficial potential. My research project explores angiogenesis throughout the full timeline of heart failure pathology—up to 56 days after myocardial infarction in mice models, or 10 years after myocardial infarction in humans. I also want to determine if there is a relationship between angiogenesis and lipoxygenase 12/15, an enzyme that forms metabolites which can aggravate or inhibit disease, depending on the context (Conrad, 1999). Mice are lipoxygenase 12/15-deficient heal better and have a higher survival rate after myocardial infarction than wild type mice, but the reason for this is unknown. My project is important because previous studies have primarily focused on angiogenesis during a single stage after myocardial infarction, but to fully understand this healing process, we must look at its entire duration. Also, some humans express lipoxygenase 12/15, whereas others do not; if we can understand the role of this enzyme in heart failure pathology, then we can offer more exacting prognostics to patients.
Life in the Lab
To put it simply, my summer research experience has been a continual learning process. Although all of the projects are related, there are so many different types going on simultaneously within the lab. I have gotten the opportunity to observe or help with various types of procedures, such as mice surgeries, exosome measurements, gene expression, and multiple stainings. I have also practiced patience, perseverance, and adaptability, as we have encountered numerous technical difficulties. The histology staining for my slides was not strong enough after my first two attempts, and it was difficult to pinpoint exactly which part of the process or handling was at fault. We had to troubleshoot multiple steps of the protocol and encountered problems with back-ordered supplies before we realized that an antibody used in the staining was getting older and therefore losing its potency. I also tried changing a step of the protocol based on new information, and that seems to have worked better than the original instructions due to the changed circumstances. Because of these issues, we have had to start over multiple times.
There is always work to do in the lab, and I have had to strike a balance between multitasking to get things done, but not taking on too much lest I make a mistake. I like that there are multiple projects going on within the lab, so although they are all related to the cardiovascular system, there is still a decent amount of variety. However, a good many of the protocols require repetitious procedures or long waiting periods, and those are far from my favorite parts. As for working with a lab team, that has been extremely enjoyable. I have made several good friends within my lab, and we learn from and support each other. We are always willing to help each other and therefore work well together, which not only makes for a better working environment, but also makes completing the work itself more efficient.
- Conrad DJ. The arachidonate 12/15 lipoxygenases: a review of tissue expression and biologic function. Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology 17: 71-89, 1999.
- Mozzafarian DM, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, Arnett DK, Blaha MJ, Cushman M, . . .Sandeep RD. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2016 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation: e308-309, 2016.
- NIH – National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Myocardial Infarction. (n.d.). In PubMed Health Glossary. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0021982/.
- Robich MP, Chu LM, Oyamada S, Sodha NR, Sellke FW. Myocardial therapeutic angiogenesis: a review of the state of developmental and future obstacles. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 9(11): 1469-79, 2011.