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Cell Biology and Anatomy researchers awarded grants to study cardiovascular disease

Despite advances in diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases, these conditions remain the leading cause of death in the United States. Understanding the basis of congenital and adult cardiovascular diseases is a major research focus for the USC School of Medicine and the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy.

In 2017, researchers in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy have been awarded collaborative grants totaling almost $2,000,000 to study diverse aspects of cardiovascular disease.

Drs. John Eberth and Susan Lessner are working with Dr. Naren Vyavahare at Clemson University on a study that could potentially lead to more effective treatment for aortic aneurysms. The researchers hope to develop and test a novel nanoparticle delivery system that would target only degraded elastin; a crucial extracellular matrix protein involved in the progression and failure of aortic aneurysms. In this project recently funded by an R01 from the National Institutes of Health, gold nanoparticles are employed as a diagnostic tool while an elastin-stabilizing compound is used to repair the degraded elastin.

Drs. Taixing Cui and John Eberth in collaboration with colleagues in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Science and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have received an R21 award from the National Institutes of Health focused on a novel approach to generate replacement small-diameter artery grafts from decellularized blood vessels. This research addresses the dire need for replacement materials for individuals undergoing coronary artery bypass and other vascular surgeries. These studies will attempt to alter vascular stem cell homing and differentiation to transform decellularized blood vessel scaffolds into mature small diameter arteries for transplantation.

Dr. Mohamad Azhar has received a Grant-in-Aid award from the American Heart Association focused on the roles of transforming growth factor beta (TGF beta) ligands in the development of aortic aneurysms. These studies are based in part on the correlation of mutations in TGF beta 2 with aortic aneurysms in patients with Loeys-Dietz Syndrome. The studies by Dr. Azhar’s lab will utilize mouse models to carefully dissect the roles of TGF beta in the cellular dysfunction that underlies development and progression of aortic aneurysms.

Dr. Taixing Cui and collaborators from the University of South Dakota have received an R01 from the National Institutes of Health focused on the role of Nrf2 signaling in the cross-talk between the ubiquitin-proteasome system and the autophagic lysosomal pathway. Regulation of protein quality control by these systems is critical to the health of heart myocytes and overall cardiac function. Dysregulation of these systems is thought to contribute to heart myocyte toxicity and heart failure.

These and other studies at the USC School of Medicine are contributing to a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of diseases of the cardiovascular system with the hope of developing more effective strategies for diagnosis and treatment of these diseases.

July 27th, 2017