Students Pumped Up for UH-HEART
5 Texas Undergraduates Complete Program to Encourage Graduate Study in STEM, Careers in Cardiovascular Research and Medicine
August 18 — 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 was very successful," said University of Houston College of Pharmacy Professor Bradley K. McConnell, Ph.D., FAHA, FCVS, who served as UH-HEART program director and one of its 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 program, participants assisted in UH faculty-led experiments aimed at better understanding topics ranging from 3D bioprinting of cardiac cells and discovering immunogenic neopeptides from chimeric RNAs to develop vaccines. Hands-on laboratory research activities included cell culture, cell transfections, protein and gene expression and microscopy. Students presented their research projects at the "2022 End-of-Program Student Presentations" along with the Coogs in Cancer Research (CiCR) undergraduate students on Aug. 5, and were each awarded a certificate of achievement.
“This year, we collaborated with CiCR to organize an all-day event for the students to give an oral presentation," said Tho Tran, Ph.D., research assistant professor of chemistry and UH-HEART assistant program director. "Eleven students presented, and they were all very well done. I am so proud to see their progress over the summer."
The program not only engaged participants in discussions with their mentors, program directors, research leadership and graduate students about their research work, but also in career planning and development. UH-HEART mentors and guest speakers lead workshops on a variety of topics, ranging from research ethics to mental health and applying to graduate programs. Participants also attended the American Heart Association (AHA) Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS) Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago, Ill.
"I was honored to have had the opportunity to mentor these research trainees as program director and mentor at the AHA BCVS Scientific Sessions," McConnell said. "These trainees attended keynote lectures, presentations, abstract viewing sessions, and early career workshops. These experiences and their networking opportunities at this national conference will go towards helping them achieve their goals in cardiovascular research and medicine."
Open to rising juniors, seniors and immediate graduates, the second-year cohort of UH-HEART participants included students from UH and the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). 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.
"Through this program, I have not only been able to learn several lab techniques, but I have also gained an appreciation for the challenges and excitement associated with a career in research," said UH-HEART trainee Saher Khan, a student in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NSM) at UH.
Asha Ayyar, UH-HEART trainee and NSM student at UT Austin, said she hopes to incorporate research into a future career to which the program provided excellent preparation.
“My experience in the UH HEART Program has been very transformative and has guided me in understanding the different ways research can be incorporated in various career paths,” Ayyar said.
UH-HEART is supported by a three-year, $165,000 American Heart Association Institutional Award for Undergraduate Student Training grant. The program 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.
Kush Kinariwala, UH-HEART participant and UH NSM student, said he believes the program shows the importance of science at work.
"You definitely will love research after you see the beautifully interconnected and impactful nature of science at work through this opportunity," Kinariwala said.
Led by McConnell and Tran, the UH-HEART program was formed through a collaborative effort by the colleges of Engineering, NSM and Pharmacy. In addition to McConnell, UH-HEART program faculty mentors were Krishna Boini, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology; Preethi Gunaratne, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and biology; Renita Horton, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering; and Yang Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology.