Faculty Name:
Frank Sachse

Biomedical Engineering

Faculty College:


Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Patients with end-stage heart failure (HF) benefit from the implantation of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs). The two primary functions of these devices are first to restore cardiac output by active propulsion of blood from the left ventricle to the aorta and second to produce mechanical unloading of the left ventricle. Several studies demonstrated that a significant number of patients (‘responders’) with end-stage dilated cardiomyopathy and end-stage HF can recover substantial cardiac function following left ventricular unloading.

Patients with chronic HF that rely on implanted LVADs are usually placed on a list of individuals destined to receive heart transplants. This list includes responders as well as non-responders. Clearly it would be desirable that potential responders undergo clinical protocols, which might lead to cardiac recovery and thus help to preserve hearts for other patients.

A critical barrier to the treatment of end-stage HF patients exists because, until now, it has not been possible to predict at time of LVAD implantation if a patient will respond to unloading with sustained cardiac recovery. Our prior studies suggest that we have a criterion that will allow us to decide whether a patient is likely to be a responder. The criterion is derived from microscopic images of cardiac tissue that are analyzed with methods of image processing.

The stipend for this SPUR project is funded by an American Heart Association grant awarded to Dr. Stavros Drakos, MD, PhD. The stipend for this project is $4,000 instead of $5,000 due to grant funding limitations.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The student will be responsible for cryosectioning, immunolabeling and three-dimensional microscopy of cardiac tissues. The project activities will involve image processing, visualization and statistical analysis of tissue microstructure to quantify differences between control, responders and non-responders at pre and post-LVAD unloading. The student will be required to take online courses for working with human subjects and be vaccinated before he/she can assist with myocardial tissue processing and imaging. Remote Contingency Plan: If in-person research will not be possible in Summer 2021, we will focus on project tasks that can be done remotely, i.e. the image processing, visualization and statistical analyses. This requires that the student has access to a computer and internet.

Student Benefits:

The student will gain exceptional experiences in different areas of basic and translational biomedical research. She/he will have an opportunity to gain insights in the operating room and be able to observe the operations performed during the LVAD implantation and heart transplant/LVAD explant in the process of samples acquisition. The student will have plenty of hands-on involvement in conducting laboratory research and learn a great deal about tissue remodeling in severe human disease. This research opportunity is well suited for student who would like to pursue a medical career and research in biomedical science (MD/PhD). The learning experience from this project will help and encourage the undergraduate student to prepare for a research related career and professional development to become a scientist and/or physician.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.