Translating Science into Action: Advancing Cardiac Studies
Mar 15, 2017 10:00 AM
Matt Rondina, MD, MS associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah Health, met Ken Campbell at a two-day National Institute of Health conference. Campbell, PhD associate professor of physiology and cardiovascular medicine, is the director of the biospecimens core at the University of Kentucky, which manages the tissue samples gathered from around the country for collaborative, clinical research. Within the biobank, Campbell stores his own collection of cardiac tissue to address his research interests.
With support from the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS), Rondina traveled to the University of Kentucky in 2015 to learn firsthand from his friend about Kentucky’s biobanking program and discuss potential collaborative efforts between CCTS groups at each university. Rondina also used this newly acquired knowledge to select a computer platform for future biobanking endeavors at the University of Utah
Fast forward a few years.
Rondina’s colleague, Sihem Boudina, PhD assistant professor in nutrition and integrated physiology in College of Health at the University of Utah, was presenting her work on a protein that appears to accumulate as the heart ages. Her data was based on mouse models. “We do not think the accumulation of the protein is bad,” she explained. “We think that it may have some benefit to keep the aged heart healthy.” As the concentration of the protein falls below a threshold, however, the heart experiences damage and may fail. Her goal was to obtain feedback from her peers on how to strengthen a research grant she was in the process of writing.
“During the talk, Sihem was asked how much data she had from human cardiac tissues to see if the age effects were the same as the mouse study,” said Rondina. The answer was unfortunately not much, but it was not from lack of trying. “I contacted my peers at the University of Utah to obtain human samples, but no one had cardiac samples from the left ventricle,” she explained. This piece of information is critical. The left ventricle is the powerful chamber in the heart that pumps blood through the body, and this is where she was looking for heart damage in her mouse studies.
Light bulb. Campbell has human cardiac samples, but Boudina’s grant was due in less than three weeks.
That evening Rondina contacted Campbell and electronically introduced him to Boudina. The two scientists began the process to share samples, which required coordination with the University of Utah Heath Institutional Review Board, the group that reviews all research projects that involve human samples to ensure they comply with local, state, and federal laws, as well as the high ethical standards of the University.
“It was a tight deadline to meet but within 10 days after Dr. Boudina and Dr. Campbell first communicated, she had the necessary human cardiac tissue samples in her lab at the University of Utah,” said Rondina.
Boudina received 33 cardiac tissue samples representing both genders ranging in age from 19–76. The shared samples were de-identified, which means the identity of the donor has been removed. However, some of donor’s metadata, such as age, gender, race and disease state, was retained so the samples can be used appropriately.
But Boudina was still racing against the clock. She had one week to prepare and run the samples, as well as analyze the data. Still, there was no guarantee that the data would support her hypothesis.
“Usually you go through all this effort, and you don’t get the data that you wish for,” said Boudina. But the collaboration paid off. The age effect that she saw in the mouse study was mirrored in the human study, and it was happening in men and women.
“What is unique, to me, about this story is the speed at which this collaboration happened,” said Rondina. He credits the efficiency in the sharing this material with the coordination between each university and the Institutional Review Board Director, John Stillman. “Without John’s assistance, in particular, we could not have obtained the necessary regulatory approval quickly enough to get these samples transferred,” said Rondina.
“I was delighted to share samples with another researcher,” said Campbell. “People do not donate samples for them to sit in a freezer. They donate so these tissues can help other researchers address critical medical questions to help the larger society.”
For Boudina, this collaboration accelerated her work to the next step. “I am a basic researcher,” she said. “I start at the ground level, but I am always hopeful that I can translate or transfer my work to benefit people. This collaboration confirmed that my target protein behaved the same way in mice and in humans. This is a great step forward.”
This collaboration highlights an important CCTS mission to accelerate science by supporting sharing efforts that lead to the translation of basic scientific discoveries to improve human health.
Stacy W. Kish