Tag Archives: heart

Heart Health: Slowing the Progression of Heart Failure
Amal Altaf
Biological sciences (BS) and global health (BA)
Barrett at Arizona State University

My Research Project

Cardiac fibroblasts are cells in the heart that are involved in producing proteins such as collagen. An accumulation of these proteins leads to a medical diagnosis termed fibrosis, which plays a major role in the progression of heart failure. Proteins such as angiotensin II are known to activate fibroblasts and promote fibrosis. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are unstable molecules in the cell that have been suspected to play a role in angiotensin-II-induced inflammation and, consequently, fibrosis. An imbalance of ROS in the cells is called oxidative stress. While no treatment is known to reverse fibrosis, a class of drugs known as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEI) are able to slow its progression, even after ACEI treatment has been stopped. However, it is unknown how ACEI treatment is able to protect against fibrosis.

In this experiment, I was tasked with investigating whether the protection against fibrosis was a consequence of a more favorable oxidative stress profile in response to angiotensin II treatment. Using heart tissue from the left ventricle of rats my lab was able to test our hypotheses. The rats were divided into three treatment groups, each treated for a total of six weeks, The treatment proposed on the rat models is depicted by the table below.

Because ACEI has been previously shown to protect against fibrosis, we hypothesized that hearts from hypertensive rats previously treated with ACEI would show decreased protein expression of pro- and anti-oxidant enzymes in response to angiotensin II, which corresponds to Group 3 in the table above. Understanding whether oxidative stress is altered due to prior ACEI treatment will allow for a better understanding of the mechanisms through which the heart can become more resistant to fibrosis. This may contribute to a better understanding of cardiac fibrosis and the development of novel treatments that may slow or prevent heart failure.

Realities of Research

Loading of Western Blot gel.

It surprised me, but I quickly learned that research involved a great deal of trial and error. I learned that while every step in the research plan is well thought out, there is still a lot of uncertainty. However, that was not a bad thing, because that uncertainty is exactly what we are targeting through our research. We sought to understand things we did not already know. My experience this summer forced me to learn new techniques, such as those of western blotting, imaging via film, and technology and analysis. I was also been fortunate enough to shadow others in the lab and gain better understanding of several other procedures such as surgeries, cell culture and immunohistochemistry.

More often than not, the results I received were different from what I expected, which led to several discussions with my research host about possible explanations and potential next steps, very often being revised. It almost reminded me of the game “Chutes and Ladders.” We would make progress in the direction we expected, then come across unexpected results which sometimes brought us back to square one or took us in a new direction. I’m not entirely sure how many times we had to start over, but we certainly had to go back and change our plan several times. We actually just revised our research question a few weeks prior to wrapping up the summer research!

Life as a Scientist

The daily life of a scientist is much more than mixing chemicals and making graphs. My life as a scientist this summer provided me with insight into the reality of working in a research lab. Beyond the trial and error, the uncertainty and the constant learning that all made each day in this field so intriguing, there was also a great amount of collaboration involved. Working as part of a team was one of my favorite parts of being a scientist. I worked towards a common goal with my lab team, but also worked with people outside of my lab, even those whose research had a different focus. My least favorite part of working in the lab was how writing-intensive it was.

When picturing a scientist, a person in a lab coat working at a lab bench usually comes to mind. In reality, the life of a scientist involves a considerable amount of writing in order to obtain grants to fund the research and to communicate the research. While this hasn’t been completely applicable to my case (since I’m not writing grants—yet!), I would still consider it to be the “worst” part about the day-to-day life of a scientist. All in all, my time in the lab this summer allowed me to gain an invaluable understanding not only of the research project I worked on, but also the realities of research and the life of a scientist.

Amal Altaf is a junior double majoring in biological sciences and global health at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. She is a 2019 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow (UGSRF) working in Dr. Taben Hale’s lab at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. Amal’s fellowship is funded by the American Physiological Society. Upon graduating, Amal hopes to pursue medical school to eventually practice as a physician

Blood Flow and Other Bodily Functions: An Investigation of Vascular Function and Endurance Sports
Andrea Rico
Junior, Health Sciences
University of Texas at El Paso
2019 STRIDE Fellow

My Research Project

My research project was focused on measuring the vascular function and rate of blood flow in arteries of the upper and lower body extremities using flow- mediated dilation (FMD) and plethysmography. We investigated the differences in vascular function on endurance sports that are upper-body predominant, lower- body predominant and mixed combination. FMD is an advanced test that uses ultrasound to measure dilation changes in the diameter of arteries, such as those in the forearm. This is a method to assess the endothelial vascular function in humans. Plethysmography measures changes in volume of blood in different extremities like the upper- or lower-body extremities. These changes are measured with blood pressure cuffs attached to a machine known as the plethysmograph. This test can dictate the amount of blood flowing through the limb and time where peak blood flow happens. It is highly effective when it is used to find changes caused by blood flow. An endurance sport is any sport that has prolonged periods of physical stress. Swimming, for example, combines both cardio and light strength exercises mostly in the upper body, which trains the body to use oxygen more efficiently. Cycling combines both cardio and light strength exercises mostly in the lower body, increasing leg strength and endurance. American football involves a lot of resistance training in both upper and lower extremities. Comparing vascular function and structure in these three sports can help to determine specific changes with training modalities.

Realities of Research

This is my first time working in a lab and my first real research project, so it was pretty scary at first. However, as time passed, I started learning something new every day, including new techniques and skills. I slowly began to understand more about my project and its importance. It has been very exciting to be able to work on this project and being able to see the results.

Life as a Scientist

Working in a lab and being able to work with individuals who share the same passion has truly being an extraordinary experience. One of the greatest things that I personally have witnessed is seeing how all lab members collaborate with one another and help each other out. It has truly been an unforgettable experience to get to know everyone and share endless memories with one another. I love being part of a lab!

Andrea Rico is a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso majoring in health sciences. She is a 2019 Short-Term Research Education Program to Increase Diversity in Health-Related Research (STRIDE) Fellow working in Dr. Gurovich’s lab. Andrea’s fellowship is funded by the American Physiological Society and through a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Grant #1 R25 HL115473-01). After graduation, Andrea hopes to pursue a PhD in occupational therapy and work at a local hospital or practice.

Ways to reduce Myocardial Reperfusion Injury

Research Project

This summer I am working in the Department of Anesthesiology at Stanford University. The main aim of my assigned project is to study the role of TRPV-1 (Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid-1) in myocardial reperfusion injury. TRPV-1 is considered as a main channel that mediates cellular responses to different stimuli such as pain and heat. Regulation of TRPV-1 is important because it controls mitochondrial membrane potential and reperfusion injury. Modulation of TRPV-1 interaction site with calcineurin is essential to reduce the injury. My main objective for the summer is to study the effect of previously synthesized peptide drugs on the interaction of TRPV-1 with calcineurin. We hope that this project will help to reduce damage from cardiac reperfusion injury since it is responsible for up to 50% of myocardial infarct size.

Realities of Research

Stanford was my dream and I spent this summer in this dream. As I had an inadequate knowledge in the real physiological lab before, I was lucky to have an opportunity to experience many new techniques and skills. The most captivating experience was rats. Unfortunately, my home university does not have animal resources and students are deprived of working with animals. Hence I am planning to pursue PhD next year, I was very anxious about my incompetence and inadequacy. Luckily, my assigned project for the summer required me to isolate fresh cardiomyocytes from adult rats and perform different cell death assays on them. I was very excited about upcoming surgeries but forgot about one significant nuance- rats itself. Rats were afraid of me, so do I. Ironically, my fear made them even more stressful, so eventually I ended up with zero cells. I repeated surgeries dozens of time forcing myself to be braver and bolder. After continuous failure, I got used to them and I am obtaining enough cells these days to continue further. Now, I understand that any skill can be acquired with determination and perseverance unless it is highly desired.

Life of a Scientist

People do the science for many reasons. For some, it gives a prestige and high social status, but for some, it gives a hope for the better future. When I first told my family a decision of becoming a scientist and pursuing an academia, I was warmly welcomed with benevolent joy about my safe future. For sure, being a scientist seems to be the most auspicious occupation for women hence it requires neither intense physical nor intellectual activity. That was when my first fairytale illusions about the science career have started. Years later, after experiencing both flukes and failures I understood that life of a scientist indeed requires something very special- struggle with Yourself.

Coming to the lab every day and continuously repeating the same routine experiments over and over again can frustrate even the nerds. But for me, this is a real beauty of the science. When the experiments don’t work for weeks and the moment when you start quitting, surprisingly everything begins to work by lucky chance. You get happy and renew the cycle from the very beginning without even a tiny memory of those hapless days. Ironically, the cycle goes on further and combo of successful/unsuccessful experiments continue to form a chain reaction in your life. I agree with Mare Curie that “A scientist in the laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale”. If you still believe in miracles and get amazed by the natural laws, follow your passion and just chase the science!



Hurt, C.M., Lu, Y., Stary, C.M., Piplani, H., Small, B.A., Urban, T.J., Qvit, N., Gross, G.J., Mochly-Rosen,D.,  Gross, E.R. Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 Regulates Mitochondrial Membrane Potential and Myocardial Reperfusion Injury. J Am Heart Assoc 5(9), 2016.

Zhuldyz Zhanzak is a senior majoring in Molecular Biology at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. She is a 2018 Undergraduate Research Excellence Fellowship (UGREF) Fellow working in Dr. Eric Gross lab at Stanford University School of Medicine, CA. Zhuldyz’s fellowship is funded by the APS. Following the graduation, Zhuldyz plans to pursue PhD in immunology and follow a career as a scientist in the academia.