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By Hannah Weems

UAB Ph.D. student Rifqi Aufan and postdoctoral fellow Ying Jiang, M.D., were each awarded a fellowship recently from the American Heart Association (AHA).

aufun 2021Aufan, a Biomedical Engineering (BME) Ph.D. student in the lab of Steven Lloyd, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiovascular Disease, received a one-year American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship. Jiang, a BME postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jianyi “Jay” Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., BME chair and professor, received a two-year AHA Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Aufan received the one-year AHA fellowship for his project, “Analytical Methods Using Cardiac MRI to Asses Diastolic Ventricular Stiffness.” This research focuses on the use of noninvasive cardiac MRI measurements to determine parameters that reflect left ventricular (LV) stiffness and investigate its correlations with LV diastolic function and, particularly, its untwisting motion, a relatively understudied aspect of LV functionality. Aufan plans to develop a new strategy to assess diastolic function by analyzing LV physical structure and motion using detailed measurements found by imaging. He will translate this information using a novel first-principles approach to describe the motion of the LV. Aufan will complete the AHA fellowship under the supervision of Lloyd.

jiang2021Jiang received the two-year AHA fellowship for her project, “Sam68 in Cardiac Hypertrophy and Failure.” She will conduct research to determine the role of Sam68, an RNA binding protein that regulates splicing during the cell cycle, in heart failure. She says she would like to determine if ablation of Sam68 in mice affects pressure in stress-induced cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure process. She will then identify the underlying molecular mechanisms of how Sam68 behaves, such as its interactions with other key molecular regulators to contribute to cardiac pathology through the use of a variety of cell culture systems and molecular biology techniques. Jiang will test Sam68 for newly identified Sam68-interacting molecules which could be targeted as a novel therapy for the prevention or treatment of cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure.

Jiang says her long-term goal is to become an independent cardiovascular investigator in a research institute to make fundamental discoveries that will benefit patients with heart diseases. She is particularly interested in mechanisms involved in the regulation of cardiac hypertrophy and how to enhance the therapeutic effectiveness by targeting novel fundamental mechanisms.

The American Heart Association provides fellowship opportunities to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising students and enhance the training of postdoctoral applicants who are not yet independent.