It was a moment of firsts when Grace Seo found out she won her first competition as a first-year student at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The $2,000 award came from the American Heart Association’s Student Scholarships in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke competition, whose goal is to provide a scholarship to fund research efforts for graduate-level or medical students.
“I was sitting at my computer analyzing echo images when I heard the news,” Seo said. “I was shocked and thankful to the many people who supported me for this competition.”
Seo will use the scholarship to fund the research project, “Induction of Dyslipidemia Using Poloxamer in an Experimental Mouse Model for Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF).”
“I first learned about HFpEF from Dr. Justin Kingery while working with Weill Cornell and GHESKIO Centers in Haiti on a longitudinal study of cardiovascular risk factors in Port-au-Prince led by Dr. Molly McNairy,” Seo said. “I was surprised to learn that there are no effective treatment options for this type of heart failure due to the complex pathophysiology of the syndrome.”
Seo continued to learn more about HFpEF as a medical student at the Miller School. She sought out the lab of Lina Shehadeh, Ph.D., professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology and the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute and director of the Regenerative Medicine Scholarly Pathway for medical students, which studies HFpEF using mice with Alport Syndrome.
Learning from dysfunctional mice
“These mice show many of the problems seen in HFpEF, including cardiac diastolic dysfunction, hypertension, and renal dysfunction,” Seo said. “Once I joined the lab, I started out learning to analyze echocardiography images of mice, which are basically live snapshots of the heart and can tell you a lot about the heart’s function or dysfunction.”
Seo’s goal for the project will involve learning to perform echocardiograms, performing surgical placement of cardiac devices in mice to collect blood pressure and EKGs, quantifying fibrosis in myocardium, and analyzing cardiac telemetry and pressure-volume loops in mice.
Grace’s project will help further develop the Alport mouse model’s applicability to studying HFpEF, a syndrome that currently lacks effective treatment options. Increasing lipid content in the myocardium of mice may correlate with left ventricular diastolic dysfunction that is characteristic of HFpEF. By treating mice with a compound that induces hyperlipidemia and increases myocardial fat accumulation, Seo aims to bring the Alport mouse model closer to what is seen clinically in patients with HFpEF.
“There’s still so much to understand about this heterogenous syndrome that we don’t have effective therapies for — especially because prevalence of HFpEF is rising, and it is associated with high morbidity and mortality,” Seo said. “Cardiovascular disease, in general, is the leading cause of death globally, and understanding the underlying mechanisms behind heart disease is key to improving patient care and quality of life down the line.”
On the right track
Despite having decided to tackle a difficult project, Dr. Shehadeh says Seo is on the right track to conducting prominent research.
“I am a proud mentor,” Dr. Shehadeh said. “Grace is one of the seven MS1 students who joined the Regenerative Medicine Scholarly Pathway. She knew from the start where her passion lies and started training in the lab early on before our didactic course started. Her hard work clearly paid off.”
Grace Seo would like to thank the following for contributing to her win:
- Dr. Henri R. Ford, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School
- Dr. Joshua M. Hare, Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute
- Dr. Camila Iansen Irion, post-doctoral associate at the Miller School
- Dr. Lina Shehadeh, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute
- Dr. Monique Williams, post-doctoral associate at the Miller School
- Dr. Daniel Fitzgerald, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Global Health at Weill Cornell Medicine
- Dr. Jean W. Pape, professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of Les Centres GHESKIO in Haiti