North Texas Daily

Students will present findings in nation’s capital

Students will present findings in nation’s capital

April 08
21:50 2013

Melissa Wylie / Senior Staff Writer

Two Texas Academy of Math and Science students will travel to Washington, D.C., to showcase their research in preventing Cardiomyopathy, a deadly heart disease that affects one in every 500 people.

TAMS junior Alysha Joseph and sophomore Diana Wang have been working with biology professor Douglas Root to research methods of preventing unexpected cardiac arrest.

“This disease is one of the few inherited forms of heart disease, and it’s probably the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes and young adults,” Root said. “When you hear about a high school student falling over on the football field, there’s a pretty high probability that this is the cause.”

Out of 800 applicants, Wang and Joseph were accepted as one of 60 undergraduate groups to present research at “Posters on the Hill” on April 23 and 24.

Wang and Joseph joined Root’s research lab last year, though he has been studying heart mutations since before the official discovery of Cardiomyopathy in the 1990s, Root said.

In the heart, strands of protein molecules enable muscles to contract and pump blood. When Cardiomyopathy is present, mutated proteins cause the strands to separate, creating a negative charge that interrupts blood flow.

Wang and Joseph developed positively charged molecules to counteract with the mutation to hold the protein strands together so the heart can continue to beat normally, Root said.

“There’s a lot of research on this same concept being done, currently,” Joseph said. “We’ve tested the binding affinities of these small molecules to the protein region, but there are stability tests being done to see if it actually increases stability.”

Recent tests have confirmed the synthetic molecules increase stability of protein strands when the disease is present, Root said. The next step for Wang and Joseph is to determine how the molecules can be used in preventative medications.

“We want to modify the compounds so they have an even greater impact,” Root said. “These could become a medication, or some derivative thereof.”

Cardiomyopathy is common among young adults, but that commonality is related to the severity of the disease rather than the carrier’s age, Joseph said.

“If they have the more severe version, they’re more likely to die when they’re younger because it will affect them before they reach their adult years,” Joseph said.

Genetic testing is the best way for a person to determine if they have the heart condition, which is common in a family with history of heart complications, Root said.

Joseph and Wang said they are looking forward to presenting their work in a national setting among other research groups.

“It’s not just science,” Joseph said. “I think it will be really interesting to look at all the different types of things other undergraduate students are doing at universities all across the country.”

The TAMS program encourages students to join a research lab while earning high school and college credits simultaneously, Wang said.

“This lab seemed really applicable because it affected people’s lives and it was related to the medical field, so I felt like it had a bigger impact,” Wang said.

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