Investigator Awards Recipients for 2013-2014

Since 1995, the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center’s Investigator Awards Programhas provided a stepping stone between bright ideas and promising proof that may help researchers compete for national grants.

For 2013-2014, private donors contributed more than $200,000 to fund investigator awards for research projects for UA Sarver Heart Center members. This year, the awards support the work of researchers at various career levels, from pre-doctoral candidates to professors in numerous departments in the UA College of Medicine-Tucson.

The following recipients received awards under several research categories.

Novel Research Projects in the Area of Cardiovascular Disease and Medicine

Steven Goldman, MD, a professor of medicine and cardiologist at the Southern Arizona Veterans Administration Health Care System, received an award made possible by Florence Jaffe and an anonymous donor to study regenerative reprogramming of heart cells to treat failing hearts. The idea is to reprogram heart cells to improve their ability to grow news heart cells to repair damaged cells. In contrast to current studies in which stem cells are injected into the heart, this simpler approach allows the heart to change the function of its own cells without introducing new cells into the heart. This reduces the chance of damage and rejection.

Kapil Lotun, MD, associate professor of medicine (research scholar track), will use the Phil and Bobbie Hanft Award for his study of the “Optimal Hemodynamic Support for Emergency Coronary Intervention During Refractory Cardiac Arrest.” Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), in which a catheter is inserted into the artery to remove a blockage, is an established treatment for treating a patient who goes into cardiac arrest because a blocked artery is impeding blood flow to the heart. In such cases, it is difficult to keep blood flowing with hands-on CPR in tandem with PCI. The study will compare coronary blood flow with a mechanical CPR device and a left ventricle assist device. The goal is to find the optimal treatment of cardiac arrest patients who require both PCI and CPR.

Miensheng Chu, a postdoctoral research associate, received awards funded by J.G. Murray and Anthony and Mary Zoia for his project: “the potential role of FXR1 in pathological cardiac hypertrophy. His experiments are designed to elucidate the role of FXR1 in calcium homeostasis and contractility, which are critical for maintaining cardiac function. This may lead to a therapeutic intervention of abnormal calcium homeostasis, which is a major cause of heart failure and sudden cardiac death. His mentor is Carol Gregorio, PhD, professor and department head of cellular and molecular medicine and director of the Molecular Cardiovascular Research Program and interim director of the UA Sarver Heart Center.

Kirk Hutchinson  received the Irving J. Levinson Award for his research project:

Pediatric/Congenital Heart Disease Awards

Ornella Selmin, PhD, research associate professor in nutritional sciences, received the Walter and Vinnie Hinz Award to study environmental sensitivity in the developing heart.

Jess L. Thompson, MD, MSc, assistant professor of surgery, will use the William “Billy” Gieszl Award for his project: “Parental and Sibling Distress in Families Caring for Children with Congenital Heart Disease.”

Heart Failure

An anonymous donor made possible two awards that support research focusing on heart failure. Raymond Runyan, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine, will study “Novel Mediators of Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition in Cardiac Fibrosis.” Qin Chen, PhD, professor of pharmacology, will study “Nrf2 as a Cardiac Protective Gene.”

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Research Grants

Paul Krieg, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine, is the recipient of the Steven M. Gootter Foundation Award, which will support his project: “Cap2 Function during Cardiac Sarcomere Development.”

Heart Disease in Women Research Grants

Gifts from the Tucson Community will support the research of Betsy Dokken, NP, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, who is studying “Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction in Diabetic Women of Color: Treatment with Glucagon-like Peptide-1.”

The following researchers received awards that will support their projects for multiple years.

John Kanady, BS, a pre-doctoral candidate in physiological sciences, will receive support for two years from the Finley and Florence Brown Endowed Research Award. Under the mentorship of Alexander Simon, PhD, associate professor of physiology, Kanady will study “Connexin Expression and Intercellular Coupling of Cardiac Telocytes.”

John Konhilas, PhD, assistant professor of physiology, received the Edward and Virginia Madden Award, which is renewable for two years to support his project: “Impact of Pro-biotic Administration on an Acute Coronary Event.”