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Written by Hannah Weems

Yang Zhou, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been awarded the Melvin L. Marcus Early Career Investigator Award in Basic Cardiovascular Science from the American Heart Association’s Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences. Zhou received the award at the organization’s 2021 Scientific Sessions following the presentation of her proposal, “TBX20 improves contractility and mitochondrial function during direct cardiac reprogramming from human fibroblasts.”

yang zhou2The Melvin L. Marcus Early Career Investigator Award in Cardiovascular Sciences encourages young investigators to continue careers in cardiovascular or circulatory physiology. This award has historically recognized physiological research and research in large-mammal studies, and encompasses functional studies in genetically engineered mice or mammals that are the recipients of cell or gene therapy.

Zhou's study aims to identify potential missing factors for human direct cardiac reprogramming. Direct reprogramming of fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes (iCMs) has emerged as one of the promising strategies to remuscularize the injured myocardium. Yet, it is still insufficient to generate functional induced iCMs from human fibroblasts using conventional programming cocktails. Study findings demonstrate that TBX20 promote cardiac cell fate conversion and enhance functional acquisition of iCMs by direct targeting contractility genes. The project has the potential to be translated in the future. Contributors to Zhou’s research include Yawen (Grace) Tang, Ph.D., researcher, UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering; Rui Lu, Ph.D., assistant professor, UAB Department of Medicine; and Jianyi (Jay) Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair, UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Zhou joined UAB’s Department of Biomedical Engineering in 2019 as an assistant professor following her postdoctoral fellowship in cardiovascular biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018. She earned her Doctorate of Philosophy in developmental biology from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, China, in 2014. Zhou and her research team have long been focused on understanding cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying cell fate determination, particularly understanding the molecular basis of direct cardiac reprogramming. 

“I am truly honored to be recognized for our work and extremely grateful for everyone’s support,” Zhou says. “My team and I will continue in our efforts to better understand cardiac reprogramming and its translational potential for heart regeneration.”