The third symposium sponsored by Baylor College of Medicine's Cardiovascular Research Institute and supported by the American Heart Association Houston highlighted the strengths and innovations of such research at the institution and attracted 75 individual posters that demonstrated the breadth of such research at Baylor and throughout the Texas Medical Center as a whole. Poster winners are:

Student Category

Zhijuan Cao, M.D., M.S., Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics-Cardiovascular Sciences Track, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
Pharmacological Hypothermia by TRPV1 Agonism Protects The Long-Term Neurofunction And Thalamic Neuron Degeneration In Ischemic Stroke. 
Author(s): Zhijuan Cao¹, Adithya Balasubramanian², Sean P. Marrelli³
¹Molecular Physiology and Biophysics-Cardiovascular Sciences Track, Baylor College of Medicine; ²Anesthesiology, Baylor College of Medicine; ³Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Biophysics-Cardiovascular Sciences Track; Anesthesiology, Baylor College of Medicine

Jenny Sun, B.S.,  Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
Genetic Characterization of Central Noradrenergic Function in Cardiorespiratory Control
Author(s): Jenny Sun¹, Russell S. Ray¹
¹Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX

Research Postdoc Category

Seokwon Pok, Ph.D., Department of Bioengineering, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
Novel Engineering Cardiac Patches For The Repair Of Congenital Heart Defects
Author(s): Seokwon Pok¹, Igor Stupin², Christopher Tsao¹, Robia Pautler³, Ananth V. Annapragada², Jeffrey G. Jacot¹
¹Bioengineering, Rice University; ²Pediatric Radiology, Texas Children's Hospital; ³SAIF, Baylor College of Medicine

Ge Tao, Ph.D., Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
Pitx2 Promotes Heart Repair By Regulating The Antioxidant Response And Respiratory Chain Components After Cardiac Injury
Author(s): Ge Tao¹, Peter C. Kahr¹, Min Zhang¹, Yuka Morikawa¹, Lele Li¹, Zhao Sun², Brad A. Amendt², James F. Martin¹
¹Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Baylor College of Medicine; ²Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Iowa

Clinical Fellow/Resident

Diego Lara, M.D., B.A., Pediatrics - Cardiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
The Effect of Chronic Maternal Hyperoxygenation on Aortic And Mitral Valve Annular Dimensions In Fetuses With Left Heart Hypoplasia
Author(s): Diego A. Lara¹, Shaine A. Morris¹, Shiraz A. Maskatia¹, Melissa Karlsten¹, Magnolia J. Nguyen², Lacy Schoppe², S. Kristen Sexson Tejtel¹, Keila N. Lopez¹, Emily J. Lawrence¹, Yunfei Wang², Shelley S. Andreas¹, Rodrigo Ruano³, Michael A. Belfort³, Nancy Ayres¹, Carolyn A. Altman¹, Kjersti M. Aagaard³, Judith A. Becker¹

Vivekkumar B. Patel, M.D., Surgery/Education Office, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
P53 Inactivation Enhances Transdifferentiation of Murine Embryonic Fibroblasts Into Induced Cardiomyocytes
Author(s): Vivek Patel¹, Hongran Wang², Vivek Singh², Reineke Erin³, Megumi Mathison², Austin Cooney4, Todd Rosengart11Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX; 2Division of Surgical Research, Baylor College of Medicine; 3Molecular and Cell Biology, Baylor College of Medicine; 4Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine

Junior Faculty

Kyungsun Heo, PhD, Cardiology-Research, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA
ERK5 Activation In Macrophages Promotes Efferocytosis and Inhibits Atherosclerosis
Author(s): Kyungsun Heo11Department of Cardiology, MD Anderson Cancer Center

Na Li, Ph.D., Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
Identification of Microrna-MRNA Dysregulations In Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation
Author(s): Na Li1, David Y. Chiang11Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Baylor College of Medicine

American Heart Association Funded Category

Jimena Giudice, Ph.D., Pathology and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA
New Insights About Functional Impact Of Alternative Splicing During Heart Development And Muscle Differentiation
Author(s): Jimena Giudice1, Thomas Cooper21Pathology and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX; 2Pathology and Immunology. Molecular and Cellular Biology. Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Baylor College of Medicine

Additional Awards

CVRI Symposium

The Cardiovascular Research Institute held its third annual symposium Feb. 26, 2015 at Baylor College of Medicine. With over 250 attendees from across the Texas Medical Center and 75 posters presented by students, scientists, and clinicians, the CVRI symposium fostered a spirit of collaboration between science and medicine.

Adam Kuspa, Ph.D., senior vice president, dean of research, Baylor College of Medicine, kicked off the symposium by highlighting the scientific and medical advances the TMC. In particular, he emphasized the importance of the new Baylor Miraca Genetics Laboratory as well as the new St. Luke’s–Baylor joint ventures. Kuspa portrayed the new possibilities for research and medicine that will be made possible with genetic screening and clinical trials noting, “the CVRI is well positioned to take advantage of this platform.”

Xander Wehrens, M.D., Ph.D., director of the CVRI emphasized the achievements of the CVRI over the past three years. For instance, over 400 members from clinical and basic science backgrounds have joined the CVRI giving them access to networking opportunities including the CVRI seminar series, which hosts some of the brightest minds in the field of cardiovascular science and medicine. The CVRI has also developed a biobank containing cardiovascular tissue samples for research purposes. Dr. Wehrens explained the importance of the biobank stating that it is the “key to better diagnostics.”  Importantly, CVRI members also have the ability to apply for funding through pilot awards. Current pilot award winners are working on everything from assessing the effectiveness of cardiac patches by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determining the importance of early childhood nutrition in cardiovascular health. Wehrens commended these basic and clinical scientists for partnering to advance the field of cardiovascular medicine.

Keynote Speakers

Deepak Srivastava, M.D., from the Gladstone Institutes gave the distinguished keynote lecture entitled “Reprogramming Approaches for Cardiovascular Diseases.”  Dr. Srivastava enthralled the audience as he described his efforts to increase cardiac function in patients who have suffered from a heart attack. The basic premise of Srivastava’s idea is fairly simple, but carrying it out seems almost miraculous. After a myocardial infarction or heart attack, the heart develops a scar, which does not function as well as muscle. Therefore, if there was a way to turn cells that would make a scar into muscle cells, the heart should function better. Deepak’s lab is doing just that. Although they currently do most of their work in mice and pigs, Dr. Srivastava hopes the research will translate to the clinic. 

Robert Robbins, M.D., president and CEO, Texas Medical Center, outlined the "Strategic Objectives of the Texas Medical Center" in his keynote speech. Dr. Robbins focused on developing two core principles of the TMC - leadership and innovation.  He explained that collaborations are essential to achieve greatness and congratulated the CVRI for its efforts to bring together cardiovascular work at the TMC. In fact, he wants to develop collaborations like the CVRI in order to increase efficiency of the TMC as a whole. One such collaboration is the new partnership between TMC and biotechnology. The TMC is now home to the largest accelerator and incubator in the country where lab space will be provided for biotech companies. Furthermore, this space will serve as an educational center with classes on how to write a business plan or how to protect proprietary ideas. Dr. Robbins explained that this partnership with biotech companies will help researchers translate discoveries into treatments and products.  Robbins gave his vote of confidence, stating, “Houston is the new frontier for life sciences and commercialization.”

Poster Session

Graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty, and clinical fellows presented posters displaying their research. Poster topics included new research in the areas of stroke, congenital heart defects, regenerative medicine, electrophysiology, cardiomyopathies and heart failure. The poster session was a great time for scientists and clinicians alike to share their research with the TMC community. Within the CVRI symposium there was quite a bit of diversity in the poster presentations. For instance, Zhijuan Cao, a graduate student at Baylor showed that pharmacologically inducing hypothermia protects the brain during stroke. Seokwon Pok, Ph.D., a postdoc from Rice, demonstrated that cells create a better cardiac patch than traditional materials. Ge Tao, Ph.D., a postdoc from Baylor, focused largely on regenerating the heart after myocardial infarction. While basic scientists delved into the theory behind a variety of cardiovascular diseases, many of the clinical fellows researched practical matters. Yuki Asaki, M.D., a pediatric cardiology fellow focused on the safety and efficacy of performing multiple cardiac procedures at once while Carolyn Altman, M.D. found that women in Texas who live in Mexican bordering counties are less likely to receive pre-natal care. The sheer variety in poster presentations demonstrates the importance of networking opportunities such as the symposium.

AHA Reception

American Heart Association funded researchers attended a reception after the CVRI symposium at the Michael E. DeBakey museum. Touring the museum, researchers and AHA leadership saw the many cardiovascular surgical advances that Dr. DeBakey pioneered. Not only did DeBakey engineer several surgical devices like an external artificial heart, but he also played a role in developing the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, which revolutionized army medicine.

In that spirit of ingenuity, Paul Klotman, M.D., president, Baylor College of Medicine, indicated that our goal for the TMC should be to become “the cardiovascular hub in the United States.” Suggesting that we can only thrive through working together with others, Klotman called the AHA “a tremendous partner.”

Dianna M. Milewicz, M.D., Ph.D., AHA board president recognized newly funded AHA researchers and reported that 61 researchers at the TMC are currently AHA funded. AHA research at the TMC dates back to 1972 with over $120 million in funding.

Xander Wehrens, M.D., Ph.D., CVRI director named the AHA spotlight on research poster winner Jimena Giudice, Ph.D.  Dr. Giudice is in the Pathology department at Baylor and her work focuses on cardiac development. Xander concluded by thanking all the poster presenters and laying out a new community outreach program focused on blood pressure control. Researchers wrapped up the day in the spirit of collaboration, mingling with other investigators, learning from one another and celebrating each other’s ingenuity and hard work. 

Diverse and Innovative Projects Presented at CVRI Symposium Poster Competition

The CVRI symposium featured poster sessions, organized into seven groups by the focus of their research. In the “Atherosclerosis, Coronary Artery Disease, Ischemia” group, Dr. Kyungsun Heo was one of two award winners among postdoctoral fellows. Heo’s project aimed to identify a novel treatment to suppress arterial plaque build-up (atherosclerosis), a syndrome which could lead to massive tissue death including “heart attacks”. Heo generated a mouse model with ERK5 knocked out in myeloid derived cells (macrophages and monocytes). His studies revealed that macrophages isolated from these mice were inefficient in removing dead cells, which led to increased susceptibility to arterial plaque accumulation. Ultimately, Heo’s study provides valuable insight into the role of ERK5 in the development and prevention of atherosclerosis.

Dr. Na Li presented a poster in the “Electrophysiology and Channelopathies” group. A junior faculty in the Molecular Physiology & Biophysics department, Li’s studies focus on identifying novel pathways in the progression of the most commonly sustained cardiac arrhythmia, arterial fibrillation (AF). Using high throughput transcriptome analysis (RNA-Seq and miRNA microarray), Li identified over 100 genes and 49 miRNAs that are differentially expressed in atrial tissue of early stage AF patients. Further analysis revealed key miRNA-mRNA interactions that were altered in AF patients. Li believes these interactions are relevant to AF progression and proposes to identify their precise physiological roles in future studies. This data is especially novel because most other studies focused on AF are not performed on tissue from patients in the early stages of the disease, and do not provide insight to the initiation of AF.

Dr. Diego Lara was an award winner for his poster in the “Congenital Developmental Heart Disease” group. Lara’s project, which explored the role of maternal hyperoxygenation (MH) on fetal heart development, was a largely collaborative effort with multiple contributors from different departments at Baylor College of Medicine (Obstetrics and Gynecology) and Texas Children’s Hospital (Pediatric Cardiology). Results of this pilot study suggest that MH is a viable, low risk in utero treatment option for fetal left heart hypoplasia, a common cause of neonatal fatality.

Another featured poster of this group was from Victor Piazza, a student in Dr. Mary Dickinson’s laboratory. Piazza’s study identified Activating Signal Co-integrator Complex 1 subunit 2 (ASCC2) as an essential protein in cardiovascular development. His studies show that mice lacking ASCC2 fail to develop essential vasculature in utero resulting in embryonic lethality. This is especially novel because very little is known about the function of ASCC2. In addition, Piazza’s efforts are part of a larger project that aims to identify and characterize genes that are essential for embryonic viability. Collaborative studies like Lara’s and Piazza’s are an essential part of the success of the CVRI.

Other outstanding posters were presented in the “Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy”, “Aortopathy and Valvular Heart Disease” and “Cardiac Regeneration and Stem Cells” groups. Dr. Ninghui Cheng identified low Glutaredoxin 3 levels as potential biomarker for in cardiac hypertrophy, a disease characterized by enlarged cardiomyocytes. The “Aortopathy and Valvular Heart Disease” group included projects that resulted in novel findings that furthered our knowledge of aortic and valvular disease. The “Cardiac Regeneration and Stem Cells” group was also full of promising research. Dr. Vivek Patel explored the role of p53 inactivation in reprogramming fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes, and Dr. Seokwon Pok engineered and tested cardiac patches for the repair of congenital heart defects. Both were honored for their posters at the award ceremony.

Finally, “Unaligned” group showcased a diverse array of cardiovascular research interests. Projects ranged from Jenny Sun’s award winning poster, whose data suggests a role for noradrenergic neurons in cardiorespiratory physiology, to Dr. David Durgan’s project that used a novel sleep apnea inducing apparatus to shift the gut microbiome of mice to induce hypertension.