Sarver Heart Center member receives research grant

Tobias Jakobi, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, received a research grant to examine the roles of different Ribonucleic acid (RNA) species in cardiovascular diseases.

“We are especially focused on cardiovascular disease, since it is the leading cause of death globally; and early diagnosis and treatment are of utmost importance for public health,” Dr. Jakobi said.

RNA acts as a messenger in cells, carrying instructions from DNA to control the synthesis of proteins. The grant will enable Dr. Jakobi’s lab to decipher a new, RNA-based cell-to-cell communication component contributing to heart disease with an emphasis on pathological cardiac hypertrophy, which is the heart’s response to different cardiovascular diseases.

“It is my aim to employ the knowledge obtained in this study to develop new ways to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease earlier, which will have a positive impact on the health of Arizonans,” Dr. Jakobi said. “We have found some RNAs are exported from cells in specialized vesicles; these vesicles are the focus of our studies.

From an early age, Dr. Jakobi was interested in computer systems and started programming. He simultaneously developed a love for molecular biology that was fostered further by his high school biology teacher.

As a graduate student, Dr. Jakobi earned a PhD in bioinformatics and genome research at Bielefeld University in Germany. During his postdoc at Heidelberg University, Germany, he focused on cardiovascular research and combining computational and molecular approaches to carry out RNA research.

“Working in the cardiology department gave me the opportunity to directly observe unmet clinical needs in patients,” Dr. Jakobi said. “These needs can then be addressed by formulating and asking precise research questions in the lab.”

Dr. Jakobi said he is grateful for the award and the new possibilities that it will open for his research; the grant will enable his lab to perform this research for the next three years.

When it comes to supporters, he credits Shirin Doroudgar, PhD, and Chris Glembotski, PhD, associate dean of Research and director of the Translational Cardiovascular Research Center at the college, with helping him integrate his RNA biology expertise into the cardiac research community.

“I consider both Dr. Glembotski and Dr. Doroudgar as great mentors that supported me during my transition to cardiovascular research and with whom I have the privilege to work together on many studies,” Dr. Jakobi said.

In Dr. Jakobi’s quest to find novel RNAs for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes the lab will also continue to work on the development of computational methods that can be used by other researchers with the goal of identifying diseases as early as possible.

“We strive to make our software as accessible as possible to other researchers who may not have bioinformatics expertise, which should empower more researchers to use the software we develop,” Dr. Jakobi said. “This will expand the utility of the grant’s funding.”

Dr. Jakobi was one of eight researchers from the college to be awarded a grant by the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona Biomedical Research Commission. In total, $2.8 million in grants were awarded over a three-year period.