Sai Panidarapu

Supervisor: Gary Lopaschuk

Project: Energy metabolism in the newborn heart with congenital heart defects


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science with Honours in Pharmacology

Why did you choose this program?

With the prevalence of interventional drug usage in chronic diseases steadily rising, I thought pharmacology would be the perfect bridge for my love of chemistry and passion for researching pathology. Countless individuals have had their quality of life improved and even fully treated through pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccines, pills, and many other drugs—a truly inspiring sector of science. The ability to fundamentally change the way the human body responds to different conditions with a drug—whether that may be an alteration in hormone levels, bodily processes, or metabolism (my area of research)—is fascinating to me.

How was your studentship impacted by COVID-19?

During the first month and a half, while in-person projects were not able to be carried out, I was still able to acquire a lot of knowledge! Our lab held tri-weekly meetings where members of the lab would present and discuss relevant papers to enrich our knowledge of cardiovascular science. In short-term research studentships, it's hard to balance doing physical experiments while simultaneously trying to understand the beauty of the underlying science. Due to COVID-19, I was able to learn a lot about the origin and history of the work I have been involved in, allowing me to appreciate some techniques that our lab does!

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

For the latter part of June and most of July, I spent my time perfecting my western blotting. By ensuring I was able to do every part of the one week long protocol effectively and independently, I increased my confidence to the standard of being able to handle just milligrams of fetal heart tissue. By the end of August, I will have probed for targets of ketone oxidation in fetal tissue, and garnered some exciting data on metabolism in children with congenital heart defects!

What interested you in the summer studentship program?

Having been involved with research in the Lopaschuk Lab since Grade 11 through the Heritage Youth Summer Researcher Program, I was able to get exposure to scientific inquiry at an early age! Dr. Lopaschuk and all the other lab members were very encouraging and supportive of young scientists, consistently offering help and teaching me about cardiovascular science. The collaborative atmosphere combined with the idea of being on the forefront of discovery in many ways piqued my interest, and prompted me to apply to the prestigious WCHRI Summer Studentship as an undergraduate student.

What has the support from WCHRI and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation meant to you?

The Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation's choice to fund my research through WCHRI has meant that despite the tough times during the pandemic, I have been able to make a lasting impact in my area of study during the summer. Collectively, WCHRI and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation have for many years given students the opportunity to take part in meaningful research, and their ability to adapt to drastic changes on such short notice to still continue the studentship program was extraordinary. Moreover, their specific support towards my fetal heart project has allowed me to take the work I have done over the past two years, and translate it to a novel human study.

Lay abstract:

Newborns may be affected by heart disease if their hearts do not properly develop. Unfortunately, surgery to correct the heart problem can lead to thickening of the heart muscle, ultimately decreasing blood flow through the newborn heart. Fortunately, therapeutic strategies are being developed to optimize the outcomes after surgery, one of which is focused on cardiac metabolism. Like a car engine, the heart uses fuels that it metabolizes, or breaks down, to form energy for contractile function. However, instead of gasoline, the heart uses nutrients for its fuels such as fats and carbohydrates.

Depending on the heart condition, the heart may be relying on the wrong type of fuel which can contribute to thickening of the heart wall. Therefore, my research investigates whether newborn hearts with defects rely on different fuels than a newborn healthy heart. This will help identify novel targets to try and optimize fuel usage in the diseased newborn heart. I will measure the molecules that are changing in infant surgical heart tissue using biochemical techniques.

Altogether, my research will improve our understanding of the cardiac metabolic profile in the newborn heart and how this can predispose a newborn to heart disease. Ultimately, research findings will help improve patient care of newborns with heart defects.