Undergraduate student researchers Dessirée Ortaç (Davis Lab) and Eesha Murali (Regnier Lab) have received Washington Research Foundation Fellowships (WRFF) that will support their time in the lab through the end of the 2023 school year.
Dessirée Ortaç is a senior Biology major at UW Bothell and an undergraduate fellow in the lab of ISCRM faculty Jennifer Davis, PhD.
In the Davis Lab, Ortaç is investigating the role of a protein called muscleblind-like protein 1 (MBNL1) in regulating heart development and response to injury and studying how modulating MBNL1 impacts cardiomyocyte growth and proliferation. The broader goal of Ortaç’s research is to aid in finding a way to drive heart regeneration in adults who’ve suffered from a myocardial infarction.
For the next three quarters, the WRFF will allow Ortaç to test how over expression of MBNL1 impacts the maturity of stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. “We have early data that suggests it does,” says Ortaç, “but we need more evidence to prove the hypothesis, which I plan to present in May at the undergraduate research symposium.”
Ortaç, who is also attending classes, preparing for the MCAT, and serving as president of the UW Bothell “Her Campus” Club, says the WRFF has both symbolic and practical value. “It’s nice to know that my work is being recognized. It is also shows that I’m capable of doing science. And, it’s great to be paid for work that I love and take seriously and that I’ve always thought of as a job.”
Before receiving a Washington Research Foundation Fellowship, Ortaç was a 2021-2022 ISCRM Undergraduate Fellow and a 2022 Mary Gates Research Scholar.
Eesha Murali entered the UW as a student in the College of Engineering. Drawn to bioengineering, she joined the Regnier Lab as a freshman in search of real-life research experience. She soon found devoted mentors in ISCRM faculty member Mike Regnier PhD, who also directs the UW Center for Translational Muscle Research (CTMR), and in Ketaki Mhatre, PhD, a postdoc in the lab.
After absorbing the latest in cardiovascular research, attending lab meetings, and contributing to ongoing initiatives in the lab, Murali eventually developed her own project. With encouragement from her mentors, Murali picked up on a project that had been led by Dasom Yoo, who completed her PhD in 2020.
During her time in the Regnier lab, Yoo had created a line of gene-edited cardiomyocytes with a mutation that impaired the cell’s ability to contract – part of the lab’s overall mission to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate muscle contraction in hopes of driving new treatments to the clinic.
Murali had been investigating how the structure and remodeling of heart muscle cells are impacted by tensional homeostasis, which can lead to cardiomyopathies when disturbed. Specifically, her focus has been on hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a potentially deadly genetic disease that can affect people of any age.
Now, buoyed by the WRFF, she will develop a new protocol for making engineered heart tissues from the non-contractile cells in pursuit of a tool that can be used for drug testing and 3D modeling. “There is a lack of knowledge about the mechanisms at the cellular level that cause HCM,” says Murali. “This research will help identify factors that can be looked at for further research and treatment.”
Currently, Murali, Mhatre, and their colleague Abby Nagle, PhD, are mapping out a paper that will detail this research, which will also double as Murali’s capstone project in the College of Engineering.
With an eye to the future, Murali is currently applying for MD/PhD programs in hopes of combining her research background with her passion for clinical practice.