Human Lab-on-Chip Platforms to Reveal Links Between Epigenetic Enzymes and Heart Conditions

September 20, 2023

Maria Pozo

As epigenetic enzymes are the target of a variety of clinical drugs, it is vital to understand how they affect the heart, especially regarding how they may contribute to or protect against arrhythmias and cardiac damage. With the help of a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), biomedical engineering Ph.D. student Maria Pozo will be exploring this link in the study “Gene Modulation of Acetylation Modifiers to Reveal Regulatory Links to Human Cardiac Electromechanics.”

The NRSA program is designed to ensure the development of a diverse pool of highly trained scientists through conducting health-related research under the mentorship of an esteemed faculty member. This fellowship is the first for GW Engineering, where Pozo will be conducting her study, advised by Professor Emilia Entcheva!

“Receiving such a highly competitive award is a recognition for the student, as many NRSA recipients go on to become leaders in biomedical technology and health applications. It is also a testimony to the high caliber research and training we provide at GW Engineering,” Entcheva said.

Epigenetic enzymes are the focus of this study since they control chromatin modification and serve as master regulators of gene expression. The study’s overarching goal is to reveal how these epigenetic factors may alter the heart’s responses to drugs and cardiotoxicity in a relevant human model. It will also uncover whether patient-derived stem cells may provide a suitable experimental test bed for personalized medicine to develop safer drugs without the use of animals. During the fellowship, Pozo also plans to expand her work on cardiac epigenetics by improving her experimental model using CRISPR technology for epigenetic control and by coupling this with in-house engineered high-throughput optical systems.

“I’m super excited about the opportunity to continue this work, and I’m especially grateful to my advisor for her guidance throughout the project,” Pozo stated.

Pozo obtained her undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland in 2019, where she was actively engaged in research. At GW, her projects focus on cardiac epigenetics, allowing her to combine her prior training in synthetic biology with newly acquired optical, optogenetic, and computational techniques. This fellowship will only aid Pozo in further expanding her research skills and developing high-throughput lab-on-chip platforms based on stem-cell-derived cardiac constructs for studying epigenetic factors in the human heart.