Early-career Heart Disease Scientists Receive 2019-2020 Sarver Heart Center Investigator Awards

University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center awarded 10 Investigator Awards totaling $165,000 for the 2019-2020 grant cycle. These competitive research projects focus on advancing knowledge in the areas of surgical interventions, the role of provider bias, heart muscle development and interventions at the cellular level, mechanical circulatory support, congenital heart disease and pulmonary hypertension.

“We are grateful for our generous donors who ensure the ongoing success of the Sarver Heart Center Investigator Award Program. Gifts to this program come in many forms. We have received generous individual donations to support a research focus area. Highly coveted planned gifts provide investigator award funding not only now but into the future,” said Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center and chief of cardiology.

Sarver Heart Center Investigator Awards provide variable amounts of funding up to $25,000 and support innovative pilot projects that commonly lead to larger regional and national grants. The return on investment for this program has been as high as 10 to 1, said Dr. Sweitzer.

Thoracic Surgery -

John J. Wettaw Endowed Research Award

Joshua Ahier, MD, thoracic surgery fellow 
Project title: Mechanical circulatory support for post-cardiotomy shock 
Mentor: Toshi Kazui, MD, PhD

Novel Research Project Awards in the Area of Cardiovascular Disease and Medicine – (five projects funded)

Anthony and Mary Zoia Award

Khadijah Breathett, MD, MS, assistant professor of medicine, cardiology  Khadijah Breathett, MD, MS and Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD
Project title: Addressing Bias in Group Decision-Making in Allocation of Advanced Heart Failure Therapies in Racial Minorities
Mentor: Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD

Dorothy M. DeMiller/Irving L. Levinson Award

Miensheng Chu, PhD, assistant scientific investigator, cellular and molecular medicine 
Project title: Elucidating the role of the RNA binding protein, FXR1, in regulating utrophin expression in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD)
Mentor: Carol Gregorio, PhD

Doris Griswold Research Award

Mengtang Li, MS, PhD student
Project title: Durable Pulsatile Rotary Mechanical Circulatory Support Device
Mentor: Marvin Slepian, MD

Jack and Mildred Michelson and John H. Midkiff Research Award

Yana Roka-Moiia, PhD Yana Roka-Moiia, PhD, postdoctoral rsearch associate
Project title: Shear-Mediated Deglycosylation: A Triggering Mechanism of Platelet Dysfunction within Mechanical Circulatory Support When Mechanics Change Biochemistry
Mentor: Marvin Slepian, MD


Archie Clifford and Clara Mabel Rentfrow, and Mark and Emma Schiffman Research Fund

Rebecca R. Vanderpool, PhD, assistant professor, biomedical engineering
Project title: Pulmonary Vascular Dispensability to Quantify Response to Therapy in Right Ventricular Dysfunction and Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
Mentor: Franz P. Rischard, DO

Sudden Cardiac Death Research -

Steven M. Gootter Foundation Award

Jared Churko, PhD Jared Churko, PhD, assistant professor, cellular and molecular medicine
Project title: Proteomic changes in ACM cardiomyocytes harboring desmosome mutants
Mentor: Nancy Sweitzer, MD, PhD

The Finley and Florence Brown Endowed Research Award (two awarded)
  • Jessika Iwanski, MS, MD/PhD candidate, College of Medicine - Tucson Jessika Iwanski, MS  
    Project title: Examining the role of cyclase-associated protein 2 in cardiomyocyte thin filament function and contractility
    Mentor: Carol Gregorio, PhD
  • Rhye-Samuel Kanassatega, MS, graduate student, cellular and molecular medicine
    Project title: Do The Twist: Understanding Contractile Dysfunction in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy by Probing the Rotational Motions of Actin and Myosin Filaments
    Mentors: Jil C. Tardiff, MD, PhD, and Brett Colson, PhD
Pediatric/Congenital Heart Disease Award –

Funded by the Endowments of William “Billy” Gieszl, and Walter and Vinnie Hinz

Michael Seckeler, MD, MSc Michael Seckeler, MD, MSc, associate professor, pediatric cardiology
Project title: Creation of an animal model of failing Fontan physiology with systemic venous hypertension