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Two Young Researchers Win Prestigious FAER Grants

May 25th, 2016

Two Young Researchers Win Prestigious FAER Grants
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Grants from the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research (FAER) are among the most competitive and prestigious awards our field has to offer. For two years in a row, UCLA's Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine is proud to be the home base of young physicians who are FAER grant winners: Kimberly Howard-Quijano, MD, and Soban Umar, MD, PhD.

Dr. Howard-Quijano's work centers on sudden cardiac death, and on abnormal heart rhythms—specifically, ventricular tachyarrhythmias—which may increase mortality around the time of surgery. Imbalances in the nervous system play a large role in triggering the dangerously fast heart rhythms that can lead to sudden cardiac death. Surprisingly, interventions that affect the spinal cord—such as spinal cord stimulation and epidural anesthesia—may be therapeutic for cardiac arrhythmias.

"I found investigation of the autonomic nervous system to be a novel and interesting area of cardiac research," Dr. Howard-Quijano said. She plans to study how spinal cord processing of nerve impulses to and from the heart can control cardiac excitability. Working with normal subjects first, and then with patients who have suffered heart attacks, her research will study the effect of spinal cord stimulation on heart rhythms, and she hopes to expand understanding of how spinal neuromodulation therapies work. Aman Mahajan, MD, PhD, Kalyanam Shivkumar, MD, PhD, and Yibin Wang, PhD, are co-investigators on this FAER grant.

Dr. Umar is the winner of a FAER Mentored Research Training Grant, a two-year grant awarded to junior faculty members. He is studying idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease with a poor prognosis that often leads to a need for lung transplantation. IPF patients who develop pulmonary hypertension have even worse outcomes.

Dr. Umar and his mentors, Aman Mahajan, MD, PhD, and Mansoureh Eghbali, PhD, have developed the first model of combined pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension in rats, effectively simulating the human disease. Their goal is to devise a novel therapy for this deadly combination of illnesses, specifically studying a molecule called microRNA 125b-3p. This molecule may serve as a biomarker for disease progression, and may also serve as a novel therapeutic target for treatment.

Both Drs. Howard-Quijano and Dr. Umar began their careers in UCLA's anesthesiology training programs. Dr. Howard-Quijano completed double fellowships in cardiothoracic anesthesiology and pediatric cardiac anesthesia before joining the faculty in 2012. The 2016 meeting of the Society of Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists featured another of her research projects, studying at the molecular level how a heart attack can induce nervous system imbalance and remodeling, leading to increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death.

Dr. Umar will complete his UCLA anesthesia residency this summer, and then will join the faculty. Dr. Umar is also the winner of a grant from the American Thoracic Society to study why pulmonary hypertension is more common in women than in men, and to search for a gene on the Y chromosome that could protect against this deadly disease.

Karen Sibert, MD

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