Main Navigation

Quick Links

Academia in Action: ‘A totally different direction’

As TingTing Hong says, “the career of a researcher is up and down.” Hong, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah, studies the structural organization of cardiomyocyte, or heart muscle cells, and how these structures impact heart function.

In her research, Hong and her lab identified a microdomain organized by a membrane binding protein that helps the heart contract and relax. This microdomain and protein are impaired during heart failure, resulting in worsened cardiac contraction and relaxation. They are now working to target this microdomain using gene therapy to introduce outside genes and proteins to improve cardiac function.

Hong—who is also an investigator at the Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute—compared her career and research to catching waves. “Sometimes we encounter difficulties, but we always see how the data lead us to the next step,” she said. In her research journey, Hong said at first, they didn’t expect to be able to use the protein for therapeutics.

“We first found this protein was associated with ways heart failure is reduced and is responsible for the structural change,” she said. “At the time we were just like ‘oh let’s give it a try’ and didn’t realize it can actually work.”

"Sometimes we encounter difficulties, but we always see how the data lead us to the next step."

In addition to pivoting based on new discoveries, Hong and her team found some of their initial beliefs about the protein turned out to be the complete opposite after further research. For example, they thought the blood levels of the cardiac protein would be higher in heart attack patients than in normal patients, but their studies later proved that it’s higher in the blood of normal patients and drops in the blood from patients with heart failure. “In the beginning we thought it’s a release from damaged muscle cells, but now it’s an equilibrated continuous release process,” she said. “We changed in a totally different direction.”

Hong hopes her research will offer a new therapeutic option for heart failure patients. “If we can just bring back this protein by gene therapy or potentially new methods of delivery, then we can rescue their heart function. That will really improve both survival and the life quality of patients with heart failure.”

Startup news: The latest out of Salarius and Recursion

University of Utah startups continue innovating and discovering solutions to today’s unmet needs. Here’s a...

U researcher recognized for decades-long career studying eosinophils

Dr. Gerald Gleich, a University of Utah professor and co-founder of NexEos Bio, has received...

Academia in Action: Getting tech into people’s hands

When Jacob George attended a summer internship program at the University of Utah in 2015,...

Demographics of children identified with autism are shifting

This story was originally published on @TheU. By Julie Kiefer - associate director, science communications, University...

Pride Week 2023 to celebrate power, persistence and resilience

This story was originally published on @TheU. By Jasen Lee - Public relations and communications manager...

PIVOT Center tours College of Health’s new research space

The University of Utah’s corporate engagement team and other PIVOT Center team members recently toured...



Oh, hello!

Contact Form