Medical student’s research on small microRNA loaded EVs as a therapy for heart disease earns AHA award

Sarah Choudhury, a fourth-year medical student in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has been awarded an American Heart Association (AHA) scholarship to continue her cardiovascular disease research at the University at Buffalo.

Choudhury started her research project in the lab of Jennifer K. Lang, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, during the summer after her first year of medical school.

She continued working in Lang’s lab during her second and third years of medical school, the results of which formed the preliminary data used in the scholarship application.

Developing Tailored Therapies for Heart Failure and Ischemic Injury

The AHA 2024 Student Scholarship in Cardiovascular Disease provides $2,000 that may be used as a stipend to support a summer 2024 research project.

“I am really excited to receive this award from the AHA and to continue conducting research in Dr. Lang’s Lab,” Choudhury says. “Cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death worldwide and with its evolving landscape, I am interested in finding ways to address its long-term implications.”

Choudhury’s research focuses on engineering mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) with small microRNA as a therapy for heart disease.

“EVs are small particles secreted by all cells that act as a means of cell communication. When they are taken up by target cells, they can modulate their function and behavior,” Lang says.

“Recently, the beneficial effects of stem cell therapy have been attributed to the EVs that these cells secrete. We took an already therapeutic EV population and introduced additional microRNA cargo into the EVs to try and further improve this as a therapy for rescuing cardiomyocyte (the pumping cells of the heart) cell death.”

“The end goal of this research is to develop an off-the-shelf, cell-free therapy for heart disease,” Lang adds. “By engineering the cargo of therapeutic EVs, we hope to develop tailored therapies for heart failure and ischemic injury.”

Cardiovascular Fellowship Spurs Interest

Choudhury was the recipient of a Nader Cardiovascular Summer Fellowship at the Jacobs School in 2022.

The fellowship, which is supported by Nader D. Nader, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesiology, is “geared toward giving medical students exposure to scientific and research methodologies that may serve as a foundation for inspiring them to pursue a career in academic medicine.”

During the fellowship, Choudhury says she collaborated with Lang on a research proposal aimed to be carried out over a 10-week period.

“I learned the importance of taking initiative, practicing a methodical discipline, and developing effective communication.”

At the end of the fellowship, Choudhury was able to submit an abstract to the AHA and present her findings at the 2023 Basic Cardiovascular Sciences Conference.

Mentor Inspiring Women to Pursue Cardiology

Choudhury says her background in biomedical engineering, combined with her love for problem solving, drew her to pursue cardiovascular research.

“When I saw that Dr. Lang’s lab was developing stem cell-based therapies for heart disease, I knew that her research interests aligned with mine, so I reached out to her,” she says. “I realized that the lab was a right fit when I saw how close-knit the lab members were and how highly they spoke of Dr. Lang as a mentor.”

Choudhury says Lang’s depth of knowledge, extensive experience, constructive feedback, consistency, and unwavering support make her a highly effective mentor.

“With the underrepresentation of women in cardiology, I am lucky to have a mentor that I can relate to and confide in when I encounter both challenges and milestones in my career,” she says. “Dr. Lang is an amazing mentor and continues to inspire women in medicine to pursue cardiology.”

Lang says that Choudhury is “an ambitious and enthusiastic student” who has impressed her with her ability to manage her studies and subsequently her clinical rotations with her research in the lab.

“Sarah is not discouraged when things don’t work out on the first or second attempt, as is often the case with science, but is eager to troubleshoot and share ideas with others and work to move the project forward,” she says.

Choudhury says after graduating from medical school she plans to apply to internal medicine residency programs, but is interested in cardiology as a specialty.

“Cardiology is an all-encompassing field, and it combines my interests in cardiovascular physiology, biomedical engineering, public health and continuity of care.”

SourceUniversity of Buffalo

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