RESEARCH AWARDS: UH medical students win top prizes in research to help treat heart disease based on basic science

John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) students Genia Taitano and Monica Katz won the top awards in cardiac research in a competition sponsored by Hawai`i’s chapter of the American College of Physicians (ACP).

Both students performed their research at the Department of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology, Center for Cardiovascular Research, in the lab of Dr. Takashi Matsui.

Genia Taitano, a first-year medical student, won first place for her work involving mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), an insulin signaling protein that has been found to protect the heart against ischemic injury such as myocardial infarction (heart attack). “We are focusing on the mTOR signaling pathway in cell survival in cardiac cells,” Taitano explained, “testing where in the cell mTOR works for regulating cell death.” Understanding the role of mTOR in rescuing cardiac cells, Taitano said, may provide a new therapeutic strategy for many heart diseases, including heart failure.

Third-year medical student Monica Katz won the third place prize for her study of the scarring a heart attack leaves behind after a heart attack. “The cardiac muscle scar is a critical factor for predicting the development of heart failure,” Katz explained. Monica generated 3-D view of a scar in the heart of a mouse following a heart attack, using digital images selected from more than 100 tissue sections. “The result demonstrated that a cardiac cell injury after a short-time heart attack extends along myofibers rather than vessels,” Katz said. “These findings may provide a clue to understand many mechanisms of heart diseases, especially heart failure.”

Dr. Matsui with Genia Taitano and Monica Katz in the Matsui Lab.

Dr. Matsui with Genia Taitano and Monica Katz in the Matsui Lab.

Dr. Matsui, himself working to find new ways to treat heart attack or heart failure among people with diabetes, is thrilled by the students’ success. “We like to help students realize that basic science tightly links to clinical medicine,” Dr. Matsui said. “We believe experience at a lab creates a strong foundation for a physician.”

More about Genia Taitano
Genia was born and raised in Rota, part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. She received undergraduate degree at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa, and holds a Master’s in Public Health in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the Oregon Health Sciences University. “I was part of JABSOM’s `Imi Ho`ōla Post-Baccalaureate Program, which may, in truth, have seeded my love of cellular minutia,” she adds with a smile. “Thanks Dr. Chung-Eun Ha and Dr. Sandy Tsukaho (`Imi instructors)!

Genia Taitano said she also has learned a lot from Dr. Matsui and his lab staff, “who are always challenging me in both basic science concepts and clinical concepts”.

More about Monica Katz
Monica grew up in Hawai`i and graduated from Punahou School, the University of California at Irvine (with a BS Biomedical Engineering), UCLA (earning an MS Biomedical Engineering) and worked at biotech companies in the San Francisco Bay area. “I returned home for medical school because I love working with patients and helping our elderly to keep healthy,” said Monica.

Monica Katz is fascinated by cardiology and basic science research because health research can help provide solutions for physicians to use to treat patients. She plans to work towards mastering both Internal Medicine and Geriatric Medicine after she graduates from JABSOM.

In our main photograph, Dr. Matsui and MD candidates Taitano and Katz are pictured on the John A. Burns School of Medicine Campus at Kaka`ako.