My name is Aisha Vallopra and I’m a senior working in the Kwiatkowski Lab.
Muscle cells in the heart are called cardiomyocytes. They’re highly organized and this organization changes as they mature. Interestingly, unlike a lot of other cell types in the body, cardiomyocytes do not replicate once mature. A family of proteins that has been linked to both cellular organization and cell replication in other cell types is the Septin family. As mature cardiomyocytes do not replicate, the heart cannot regenerate when its functioning is compromised by illness or disease. This has interesting implications for cardiovascular disease pathology and treatment, as it means that many molecular risk factors for heart disease are present from birth once the heart matures. Before we can discover new treatments, however, we must know the basic biology behind cardiomyocyte organization. Despite growing research on the importance of Septins in other cell types, they have not been extensively studied in cardiomyocytes. My project focuses on defining the role of Septins in cardiomyocyte organization and maturation using various cell biology techniques under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Adam Kwiatkowski and graduate student Sahana Balasubramanian.
I’m majoring in Molecular Biology with minors in Chemistry and Religious Studies and a certificate in Community Health Assessment. My professional goals are open, and I plan on working a few years before pursuing graduate school to have a better feel for what I want to do. The opportunity that the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship offers me to experience writing a proposal, planning experiments, and quantifying results will help me in my future endeavors regardless of what field I pursue.