Fralin Biomedical Research Institute doctoral candidate awarded NIH Fellowship to study role of virus in sudden cardiac death
A dose of adenovirus hits most people like a common cold – a cough, a fever, maybe a sore throat. But for an unfortunate few, the usually benign bug hacks the heart’s cellular electrical communication system and sometimes proves fatal.
Rachel Padget, a doctoral candidate in the laboratory of James Smyth, an assistant professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, seeks to learn how adenovirus turns deadly in those rare cases. Her research could also lead to identifying treatments to reduce sudden cardiac death.
A student in Virginia Tech’s translational biology, medicine, and health graduate program, Padget was awarded $101,687 under the National Institutes of Health’s Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award program to develop a novel way to study how the virus affects heart function.
“Viruses evolve with us and are basically the best cell biologists we know,” said Smyth, Padget’s mentor and an investigator in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s Center for Heart and Reparative Medicine Research. “Anything we learn from how the virus is manipulating how cells communicate could shed potentially important new information on how to address this challenge.”
Smyth and his team’s earlier research found adenovirus attacks a protein called connexin 43, which forms communication channels between cells called gap junctions.
“What we learn from the viral regulation of connexin could be applicable to all forms of heart disease and possibly cancer. That may hold potential to inform future development of therapeutics,” Smyth said.
Researchers in the Smyth lab focus on how a particular class of heart diseases, also known as cardiomyopathies, manifest at the subcellular level. In a small number of cases, the mild adenovirus can lead to sudden cardiac death.
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