Pictured from left: Qiangrong Liang, Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda, and Haotian Zhao
The awards, which total approximately $1.4 million (as of July 1, 2023), include NYITCOM’s first grant from the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and two competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The funding will support studies that aim to advance the scientific understanding and treatment of several pressing health conditions, including pediatric brain cancer, heart failure, and hypertension.
Advancing Pediatric Cancer Research
Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Haotian Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., has secured NYITCOM’s first DoD funding award: a three-year DoD Rare Cancers Research Program Idea Development Award totaling $499,800.1
The grant will support Zhao’s continued research efforts to investigate and explain the molecular processes responsible for choroid plexus carcinoma (CPC), a rare cancerous tumor that occurs primarily in children. These deadly tumors form within brain tissue that secretes cerebrospinal fluid and tend to respond poorly to existing cancer treatments, which makes them highly lethal. Zhao’s research team hopes to improve understanding of the biology behind CPC, which, in the long term, could lead to anticancer drugs that stop or slow CPC growth.
One of the project’s key investigators is Lukas Faltings, a student in NYITCOM’s D.O./Ph.D. program (osteopathic medicine/biological sciences). Faltings recently presented data at a Society for NeuroOncology research conference in Washington D.C. Following his presentation, he was invited to also speak at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, one of Europe’s leading hospitals.
Other NYITCOM research collaborators include Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences Jerry Zhao, Ph.D., and medical students Navjot Guru (D.O./Ph.D.), Navleen Singh, James Virga, and Siddhi Modi. Undergraduate researchers include life sciences students Mariam Zahran, Anjali Siluveru, Maheen Umer, and Heena Jalili, as well as exercise science major Kristen Green.
Haotian Zhao (far right) poses with student researchers from his laboratory. Top row (left to right): Andrew Attia, James Virga, Eugene Atiase, Maheen Umber, and Lukas Faltings. Bottom row: Kristen Green, Heena Jalili, Anjali Siluveru, Navjot Guru, Siddhi Modi, and Navleen Singh.
Protecting the Hearts of Cancer Survivors
The NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has awarded Professor of Biomedical Sciences Qiangrong Liang, M.D., Ph.D., a $428,400 grant in support of a three-year project that aims to prevent long-term heart damage in cancer survivors previously treated with the medication doxorubicin (DOX). 2
DOX is an extremely effective and wide-spectrum anticancer drug, but its use can lead to heart failure. This presents a serious lifelong health problem to millions of cancer survivors who were treated with the medication. Liang is leading a research team that plans to uncover strategies to reduce DOX’s cardiotoxicity without compromising its antitumor efficacy. The team will reproduce and analyze DOX cardiotoxicity in both cultured heart muscle cells (myocytes) and animal models, seeking to identify key underlying signaling pathways. Their findings could provide the basis for improved cancer treatments with reduced heart damage.
For the last 10 years, Liang has recruited dozens of NYITCOM and undergraduate New York Tech students to assist in his cardiac research. Among others, this has included students pursuing dual degrees in Life Sciences, B.S./Osteopathic Medicine, D.O., NYITCOM’s Pre-Doctoral Academic Medicine Scholarship Program (M.S./D.O.), and those selected via the university’s Advanced Research Core program. Current students working in the Liang lab will have the opportunity to participate in this newly NIH-funded project.
The project’s other collaborators include Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Youhua Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Research Associate Yuan Huang, M.D., and Professor and Department Chair Martin Gerdes, Ph.D.
This figure shows heart sections from animals treated with DOX and a drug. DOX alone induces the death of cardiac myocytes, indicated by the red dots in the middle panel. However, treatment with the drug abolishes DOX’s ability to cause cell death, as shown in the right panel.
Exploring the Biology of Obesity-Induced Hypertension
Associate Professor Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda, Ph.D., B.S.N., has secured a $428,400 grant from the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for a three-year project to investigate how obesity leads to the development of high blood pressure (hypertension).3
Nearly half of adults in the United States have hypertension, a leading cause of cardiovascular diseases and death, with obesity accounting for an estimated 70 percent of primary hypertension cases. However, the exact biological processes leading to obesity-related hypertension remain unknown. Further complicating matters, current antihypertensive medications were not specifically developed for patients with obesity, which could explain why they are less effective in treating this at-risk population.
Now, using a genetically engineered mouse model, a research team led by Sepulveda will analyze how biochemical changes (hyperacetylation and deacetylation) to the protein PPARg, which is involved in regulating fat biology, and asprosin, a hormone secreted by fat, may contribute to vascular damage resulting in high blood pressure. The team, which includes Columbia University Associate Professor Li Qiang, Ph.D., plans to provide rigorous scientific evidence to support the therapeutic benefits of PPARg deacetylation in obese patients with hypertension. Their results could inform the development of new treatments for this population.
Importantly, the NIH-funded project will provide an opportunity to enhance undergraduate and medical students’ experience by offering scientific training in cutting-edge preclinical research, including hands-on exposure to science with real-life clinical significance that may change the course of patient care.
Other NYITCOM researchers include Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Olga Savinova, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Anatomy Akinobu Watanabe, Ph.D., and fourth-year medical student Nicole Maddie, who was recognized by the American Heart Association in 2020 and 2022 for her work in Sepulveda’s laboratory.
NYITCOM student Nicole Maddie (right) is working under the mentorship of Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda to study the link between obesity and hypertension.
1This work was supported by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs endorsed by the Department of Defense, in the amount of $499,800, through the FY22 Rare Cancers Research Program (RCRP) Idea Development Award under Award No. HT9425-23-1-0628. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs endorsed by the Department of Defense.
2This grant was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R15HL163707-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. (PI: Qiangrong Liang, M.D., Ph.D.)
3This grant was supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R15HL165328-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. (PI: Maria Alicia Carrillo Sepulveda, Ph.D., B.S.N.)