Heart Racing Research Discovery

Before going to grad school in Durham, North Carolina, I was trying to figure out if research was for me or not. I worked in an academic lab as a research technician to study developmental genetics in mice. I found out very early that not everything goes as planned and experiments do not always work the first time.

However, there was one time when the stars aligned, and I had an experiment work for the first time. The result that I observed under the microscope was magical and wondrous. I was studying the effects of deleting the Porcupine gene in embryonic stem cells.

One proposed consequence of deleting the Porcupine gene in stem cells was an impact on the cells’ ability to differentiate into cardiomyocytes or heart cells. The experiment was set up such that the stem cells with and without the Porcupine gene would be stimulated with different signaling molecules in the media to force them down a pathway of differentiation to become a heart cell. All the conditions had to be perfect, and it took two weeks of daily observations under the microscope before I saw what I was looking for. In the control cells with the Porcupine gene, the cells one day started rhythmically beating!

It was breathtaking to see heart cells involuntarily constricting. I rushed down the hall to my PI’s office to share the exciting news and he equally reveled in the success of the experiment. I continued to make daily observations about which wells of cells had magically transformed into beating heart cells overnight, the difference that we saw in the stem cells without the Porcupine gene was one of the most wondrous experiences I had as a young scientist.

I still love finding things for the first time and especially finding the unexpected. I thought I would always be a developmental geneticist, but one of the best pieces of advice I received from that same mentor was not to use mouse genetics as a model organism for my PhD. So, I diverged from my predicted path to pursue a PhD in cancer pharmacology, which proved to be a wise decision as I was able to complete my PhD in less than 4 years. My journey has come full circle now as my lab uses mouse genetics to generate cancer models of rare sarcomas to test novel therapies for safety and efficacy. 

We thank Dr. Jared Barrott for his research and contribution to our blog. If you also work in cardiovascular research or cancer research you might be interested in  checking out our cardiovascular and cancer research related reagents.