My thesis project is to investigate the role of Wnt signaling in cardiac regeneration and repair. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), such as myocardial infarction (MI), is the leading cause of death in the United States and in developing countries around the world. MI occurs when a coronary artery is occluded from atherosclerotic plaque rupture and thrombosis. Cardiomyocytes, the contractile cardiac muscle cells begin to die within minutes of the acute ischemic injury. The widespread cell death then triggers an immediate inflammatory response, followed by fibrosis and neo-vessel formation. The adult heart, however, lacks the ability to regenerate the lost cardiomyocytes and suffers from excessive fibrosis and lack of proper vessel formation, which eventually lead to heart failure (HF). Therefore it is critical that we find effective therapeutic methods to fine-tune the repair process and to regenerate the functional cardiomyocytes. Our lab and others have previously identified the canonical Wnt pathway to play a critical role in mediating such cellular processes of cardiac repair, as well as in regulating proliferation and differentiation of cardiac stem/progenitor cells. Consequently my goal is to uncover the effects of canonical Wnt activation in promoting stabilized vessel formation and cardiomyocyte regeneration.
My clinical mentor is Dr. Douglas Sawyer, Lisa M. Jacobson Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine. By working with Dr. Sawyer, I will have a chance to interact with patients suffering from CAD and gain perspectives of the disease outside the lab. The time in the clinic will also allow me to understand the diagnosis and the current treatment methods of MI. Such experience will be essential in allowing me to understand the ways I can effectively translate the basic research to creating an effective therapeutic target in treating CAD.