Brackenridge Introduction: Maryam Alanjawi

Introduction

Hey everyone! My name is Maryam and I’m a rising sophomore at Pitt, majoring in Molecular Biology and minoring in Chemistry. This summer as part of the Brackenridge Fellowship, I am excited to be working at the Gomez Lab to study vascular smooth muscle cells, with my research mentor Dr. Delphine Gomez. Something unique about me is that I am originally from Kuwait, which is a small country in the Middle East. My hobbies include travelling, watching TV shows and playing tennis and piano. Academically, I’m interested in genetics as a whole, but more specifically a branch of it called epigenetics, which is concerned with regulating gene expression.

My research project

My project is focused on Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), which is a disease where blockages occur in the blood vessels of the limbs due to plaque build up. It causes serious problems such as chronic pain and cramps, and can even lead to amputation of the diseased limb. In PAD patients, it has been found that they have a lower capacity for growing new blood vessels to compensate for the blockage.  Currently, treatments are focused on preventing more blockages rather than trying to increase the amount of vessel growth, otherwise known as vascular remodeling,  which could alleviate some of the damage already done. 

Research is being done on inducing vascular remodelling in these patients by activating cells that are in the blood vessel, such as endothelial cells. However, clinical trials didn’t see much success, and the blood vessels that the patients grew were leaky and unstable. This may be due to the lack of smooth muscle cells being involved in the growing vessel. Vacular smooth muscle cells are known to be important contributors by making blood vessels stronger and sturdier. 

TET2 is an enzyme associated with regulating smooth muscle cells by acting as an epigenetic regulator. My project is going to be studying the role that TET2 has on smooth muscle cell behavior to better understand how their contribution to vascular remodelling is regulated in the context of PAD, which can hopefully inform research for new therapeutics. 

Future goals

In the future, I hope to pursue further studies in the biomedical sciences and enroll in a PhD or MD program. This fellowship will allow me to work on my project full time, and gain a better understanding of what research is like. If I decide to become a physician, I hope to integrate what I’ve learned in research and apply it when treating patients with incurable diseases like PAD through therapeutics and clinical trials. Additionally, I would like to get involved in STEM outreach, because school science fairs and research projects are part of what inspired me to get involved in research in the first place. A step towards that is learning how to communicate and simplify my research to a general audience, which the Brackenridge will allow me to learn how to do. 

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