Perry Wu Wins Sarnoff Fellowship

Third-year UI medical student Perry Wu was recently awarded the prestigious Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Fellowship. In his own words, Mr. Wu describes the nature of the program and his own efforts in achieving this distinction.

The Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Fellowship was started in 1979 by the estate of Stanley Sarnoff, M.D., a world-renowned cardiovascular physiologist, who wanted to promote research opportunities for promising medical students in order to entice them into the field of cardiovascular research. Later, the Sarnoff Foundation became the model for the American Heart Association (AHA) Research Scholarship Program and the Fellowship Programs sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH). The mission of Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Foundation is to develop medical students throughout their careers into the next generation of leaders in cardiovascular innovation, research, and medicine by providing mentored research experiences and lifelong community.

I am one of 12 individuals nationwide to receive the Sarnoff Cardiovascular Research Fellowship award for the 2016-2017 year. Second- and third-year medical students across the U.S. compete for this award. Fellows are selected based on their applications and — if selected to interview — their two interviews in Boston with panels of top Principal Investigators affiliated with Sarnoff from across the nation.

The application consists of the following:

  1. one-page personal statement describing our scholarly interests and career plans
  2. three-page research proposal on a cardiovascular topic we are interested in
  3. curriculum vitae
  4. medical school transcript
  5. three letters of recommendation. One of these is written by our Sarnoff Sponsor. My Sponsor was Dr. Dale E Abel.

I first heard about the Sarnoff program during my M1 year from Dr. Abel when we met to discuss potential research projects. I had been considering taking a year off for research at that time. I applied to Sarnoff because the lifelong commitment to research and to the Sarnoff community especially resonated with me. On interview day, I was especially struck by the vast network that the program had developed as well as the mentorship it made available. This mentorship is especially important to me and I have been fortunate to have experienced first-hand the impact that excellent mentorship can have from Dr. Abel. I really can’t thank him enough; his guidance has been truly invaluable throughout the application process.

Regarding my research: The heart consists of more than just the cardiomyocytes; we must also consider the context of fibroblasts, endothelial cells, the extracellular matrix (ECM), and more. I am interested in the interplay between cardiomyocytes in the context of the cardiac milieu in the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) disease model. There is a lot of exciting research regarding HCM that is going on because researchers are trying to figure out how the different mutated genes in this disease translate to its presentation. My Sarnoff research proposal described the culturing of induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes with cardiac fibroblast on a simplified model of decellularized 3D cardiac matrices to investigate the paracrine signaling, mechanical forces, and electrical conductivity involved in HCM. A model from culturing stem cells on a 3D matrix has diverse applications. In addition to the potential to roughly simulate various cardiac pathologies, it allows for progress in the field of heart transplant, and can serve as a modality for personalized drug screening for patients.

Our research proposal will not necessarily be the project we actually work on. Sarnoff allows a wide variety of research topics that can fulfill their “cardiovascular research” requirement. As a fellow, I will visit labs around the country and make my final decision in the next few months regarding where to go and what research topic to pursue.

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