Project SummaryMost undergraduates at large universities do not see the connection between bench research and medicine. In addition, major research universities have the special challenge of encouraging their most prominent faculty to include undergraduates in their research laboratories. It is also critical that we have a more scientifically literate citizenry, and we need to communicate better about the positive impact that scientific research has on society. This project strives to enhance science education by addressing these issues. At its center is the notion that people are motivated to learn about subjects that have personal relevance; human health and disease offer that relevancy for many and can be used to convey the benefits and nature of the process of scientific research and education.
One part of this project involves developing new curricula for undergraduates. Undergraduates have few opportunities to learn about the breadth of scientific research—curricula rarely involve multiple disciplines. To change that, we are offering a new interdisciplinary course open to life science majors in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Chemical and Biological Engineering in their sophomore years. Enrollment will initially be 100 students per semester, thus reaching 800 students in the next four years.
The course will be taught by University of Colorado scientists and physician-scientists as well as scientists from the biotechnology community. These scientists will also give one lecture each in a public lecture series and in high school teacher workshops. Using human disease as a focal point, the lectures will cover a broad array of topics ranging from behavioral genetics to exercise physiology to microbial communities in common disease states.
In addition to the course and lectures, mentoring training for postdoctoral fellows as well as a new research program for undergraduates will be offered. The first part of the mentoring training will cover recommended strategies for mentors of undergraduates, issues that affect undergraduate research assistants, undergraduate orientation to research, project selection and design, management of issues concerning authorship, data ownership,and conflict resolution. The second part will include practice and further sharing of experience among mentoring trainees.
The undergraduate laboratory research program (titled the "Python Project") will use pythons to help students understand the biology of python hearts and relate that to human heart disease. This understanding may lead to new therapeutics.
ResearchSummaryOver the past decade, our laboratory has studied how cardiac and skeletal muscle adapt to a wide variety of stimuli, including exercise and disease, and how these adaptations are modified by diet, gender, and genetic background. The heart enlarges in response to both exercise and disease, but in the former case, this adaptation is beneficial and associated with improved cardiovascular conditioning whereas the latter is associated with poor cardiac function.
One of our goals is to understand which pathways are involved in these two types of cardiac adaptation. One of the diseases my group focuses on is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes. This is an autosomal dominant disease caused by mutations in sarcomeric proteins, including myosin heavy chain, the motor molecule of muscle. To understand the pathogenesis of this disease, we have used approaches ranging from biophysical analysis of mutant proteins to analysis in genetically manipulated mice.
Our major contributions have been 1) better understanding the role of gender in experimental models of heart disease and determination of some of the pathways leading to these differences, 2) determining that exercise uses distinct pathways from disease to modify muscle even though the endpoints in terms of increase in size are the same, and 3) establishing that diet has a profound effect on the heart and has a particularly important effect on the diseased heart.
Last updated September 2006