Centre College senior Jessica Wheeler of Georgetown, Ky., recently received first place in the poster presentation category at the Gill Heart Institute Cardiovascular Research Day 2010, held at the University of Kentucky.
The research project, “Characterization of Mice with Targeted Inactivation of Lipid Phosphate Phosphatase 3 (LPP3) in vascular endothelium,” was the work not only of Wheeler but also Lauren Payne, Manikandan Panchatcharam, Sumitra Miriyala, Abdel K. Salous, Andrew J. Morris, Diana Escalante-Alcalde and Susan S. Smyth.
“We’re looking at a bioactive lipid, lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), that plays a role in the cardiovascular system—including the activation of platelets, causing blood clots—and is prevalent in oxidized LDL, the ‘bad cholesterol,’ that makes up the cholesterol plaques in clogged arteries,” Wheeler says.
“We know that this lipid is tightly regulated between its synthesis and degradation. The family of enzymes responsible for its degradation, the LPPs, come in five main forms. These are simply labeled LPP1-5. We’ve also discovered that LPP3, when knocked out or inactivated in an embryo, causes lethality. Based on other evidence, we know that there is a role of the vascular support cells in the optimum function of LPP3. Therefore, we decided to create a knockout of this gene in the vascular endothelial cells (the cells that line blood vessels), in adults using the administration of a drug that transcribes an enzyme to inactivate LPP3. We’re now studying the effects that the inactivation of this gene has on the cardiovascular system in adult mice.”
The research is being conducted in the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Gill Heart Institute at the University of Kentucky. Wheeler, who has been a part of the research since the beginning of August (thanks to an internship through Centre), says she was surprised to have received the first-place award at the 2010 Gill Heart Institute Cardiovascular Research Day.
“I was in the only undergraduate in the competition and was in the staff category since I’m an outside research intern, and there were a lot of people who have advanced degrees that I was competing against,” she says. “One of my fellow lab members had to tell me that my name had been called.”
A biology major, Wheeler plans to study cardiovascular biology in graduate school after receiving her Centre degree this December. And she is looking forward to the challenges and rewards of her future scientific endeavors, some of which may be the outcomes of the research project she is currently conducting.
“In research, a project is never really complete,” she says. “Usually, what you find out only leads to more questions and observations to be made. The work that I presented was a combination of a lot of people in the lab, all working very hard to make sense of a physiological system. Understanding this system opens new doors, and could lead to new ways to treat cardiovascular disease.”