Mentoring the Next Generation of Award-winning Physician Scientists

02/17/17

Imagine you are a “typical” patient with heart failure and you take six to eight medications to control your condition. What if your doctor could enter some of your diagnostic data into a software program and learn which drugs are safest for you and which may be toxic to your heart? That’s the vision of Ikeotunye (Ike) Royal Chinyere, a University of Arizona senior in honors physiology who works as a cardiac electrophysiology research specialist at Sarver Heart Center under the mentorship of Elizabeth Juneman, MD, and Steven Goldman, MD.

Chinyere recently won two research awards, including a grant from BioAccel’s “Scorpion Pit,” and a PitchFest Award from the University of Arizona Office of Student Engagement.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in our country and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. As pharmaceuticals and treatments advance, methods to evaluate more carefully how a drug, biologic or implantable device interacts with the heart are critical.

“We have developed a software system that is able to perform the same tests done by clinicians in hospitals on multiple disease models. This is different from current research methods because the tests are more holistic and the data is directly applicable to humans,” said Chinyere. “By testing new drugs in our disease models and loading data in our software, we can better assess cardiac safety and prevent harm to patients as well as save drug-developers time and money,” he added. This software has been reviewed by field-experts and published, and incorporates a number of disciplines, from business to engineering. It helps determine which drugs are arrhythmogenic, which could lead to sudden cardiac death, the leading cause of death in patients with heart failure.

After Chinyere graduates from the UA in May, he will begin medical school at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson as an MD/PhD candidate. He decided to attend the UA for medical school even though he also had been accepted to Harvard and Oregon. Eventually he plans to pursue training in cardiology. “The heart is the pump at the center of us all. It is absolutely necessary for life, and accomplishes an amazing job every single day, hour and minute of our lives. There are many different perspectives of the heart within cardiology (mechanical, electrical, pressures) and they all work together seamlessly,” said Chinyere.

He is the oldest of four boys born and raised in Kingman, Ariz., to Nigerian immigrants, Andy and Stella, who have worked as a pharmacist and nurse since moving to this state.