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  • uh-heart mentors, administrators and mentees

    The inaugural UH-HEART program participants were, front row from left, Ashton Huckaby, Robert Flores, Naazneen Ibtehaj, Jing Ming (Jett) Lim, and Mark Manickath. The UH-HEART program administrators and mentors were, back row from left, Courtney Hunt, Tho Tran, Krishna Boini, Yang Zhang, Yu Liu, Renita Horton, and Bradley McConnell.

  • student takes notes during experiment

    UH-HEART program fellow Robert Flores from the University of St. Thomas takes notes while conducting an experiment as part of his work on the role of inflammation in kidney disease with UH College of Pharmacy researcher and mentor Krishna Boini, Ph.D.

  • student at microscope

    UH-HEART program fellow Ashton Huckaby from the University of Texas at San Antonio uses an imaging system as part of her work on coronary microvascular dysfunction under UH College of Pharmacy researcher and mentor Yang Zhang, Ph.D.

  • student working in lab

    UH-HEART program Naazneen Ibtehaj from the University of Texas at Austin prepares an experimental sample as part of her work on cardiac cellular differentiation under UH Natural Sciences & Mathematics research and mentor Yu Liu, Ph.D.

  • student working in lab

    UH-HEART program fellow Jing Ming (Jett) Lim from UH prepares samples as part of his project engineering a microenvironment for heart cell regeneration with UH Cullen College of Engineering researcher and mentor Renita Horton, Ph.D.

  • photo of student working in lab

    UH-HEART program fellow Mark Manickath from the University of Texas at Austin pipettes samples as part of his work on adrenoreceptor signaling in the heart under the direction of UH College of Pharmacy researcher, mentor, and program director Bradley McConnell, Ph.D., FAHA, FCVS.

HEART-y Start

5 Texas Undergraduates Complete UH-HEART Program to Encourage Graduate Study, Careers in Cardiovascular Research

August 31 — Five Texas undergraduate students recently completed the University of Houston-Houston Experience for Advancing Research and Training (UH-HEART) program, a 10-week hands-on laboratory experiential and career exploration initiative focusing on cardiovascular research.

"Our American Heart Association-funded UH-HEART program, which trained our first cohort of undergraduate students over this past summer, was extremely successful," said UHCOP Professor of Pharmacology Bradley K. McConnell, Ph.D., FAHA, FCVS, program director and one of the UH-HEART faculty mentors. "We integrated educational workshops with cardiovascular research experiences to enable our students to be better prepared for graduate school as well as future careers in cardiovascular health professions, such as medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and public health."

During the course of the program, participants assisted in UH faculty-led experiments aimed at better understanding topics ranging from adrenoreceptor signaling in the heart, coronary microvascular dysfunction, inflammasomes’ role in kidney injury, cardiac cell differentiation, and finally to engineering microenvironments for cardiac cell reprogramming. Hands-on laboratory research activities included cell culture, cell transfections, protein and gene expression, and microscopy. Students presented their research projects at the "2021 End-of-Program Student Presentations" Aug. 4, and were each awarded certificates of achievement.

A key component of the program was providing opportunities for participants to engage in discussions with their mentors, program directors, research leadership, and graduate students about their research work but also career planning and development. In addition, the program included faculty and staff talks on topics such as research ethics and conduct; plagiarism and author integrity; mental health and preparing for challenges; presentation preparations and elevator pitches; and crafting an individual development plan. 

"We’re very proud of our interactive seminar series, which offered a comprehensive understanding ranging from basic research skills to navigating possible careers beyond graduate school and personal success," said Tho Tran, Ph.D., research assistant professor of chemistry and UH-HEART assistant program director. "We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without our incredible line-up of guest speakers."

Open to rising juniors, seniors, and immediate graduates, the inaugural class included students from UH, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of St. Thomas. UH-HEART fellows were eligible for a $6,000 stipend upon completion of the program, with additional funding available to attend a national research conference. Next year, the program aims to recruit students from across the U.S.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the UH-HEART program, especially the collaborative environment, the transferable research skills, and the life-long relationships I have fostered," said Mark Manickath, a student in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. 

UH-HEART is supported by a three-year, $165,000 American Heart Association Institutional Award for Undergraduate Student Training grant. UH-HEART is housed within the UH Drug Discovery Institute, which fosters transdisciplinary collaborations between faculty from UH colleges of Engineering, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Medicine, Natural Science and Mathematics, Optometry, Pharmacy, and Technology.

The UH-HEART program leadership consisted of Bradley K. McConnell, Ph.D., FAHA, FCVS, professor of pharmacology and UH-HEART program director; Tho Tran, Ph.D., research assistant professor of chemistry and UH-HEART assistant program director; and Courtney Hunt, Ph.D., UHCOP research manager assigned to the UH DDI. In addition to McConnell, the four other faculty mentors were Krishna Boini, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology; Yang Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology; Renita Horton, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering; and Yu Liu, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry. This program was a collaborative effort through the colleges of Engineering, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Pharmacy.