Student researcher gains insight into chicks’ hearts


By Rebekah Williams

On May 9, as Union celebrated its 24th annual Steinmetz Symposium, students hurried from building to building to learn about student research from their friends and classmates.

The Steinmetz Symposium was named in honor of Charles Proteus Steinmetz. Steinmetz was a famous pioneer of electrical engineering, previous chair of Union’s Department of Electrical Engineering and champion of the liberal arts education.

The symposium honors Charles Steinmetz as it seeks to celebrate all the facets of higher education and interdisciplinarity.

Biology major Song My Hoang ’15 presented her research on Steinmetz Day. She has worked with Department of Biology’s Professor Quynh Chu-LaGraff since May 2013.

Their work centers on investigating the role of the protein non-muscle myosin II as it is involved with heart development, using chick embryos as their model organism.

The well-known, four-chambered heart develops in two phases: C-looping and S-looping. Their research is concerned only with S-looping.

“Many heart defects are caused by abnormal looping during heart development,” Hoang explained.

In order to investigate the role of non-muscle myosin II, Hoang employed its pharmaceutical inhibitor, Verapamil. Verapamil is an L-type calcium channel blocker used to treat hypertension and angina. It disrupts heart contraction and development by blocking actin-myosin binding.

Using chick embryos that had already undergone the first stage of heart development, C-looping, Hoang tested the role of non-muscle myosin II by observing what happened when its function was blocked.

Of all the chick embroys to be treated with Verapamil, none underwent S-looping. Rather, cardiac swelling and heartbeat cessation was observed.

Interestingly, the growth of the head and development of the spinal curvature, known as cervical flexure, were also hindered.

Because they were also interested in the distribution and organization of actin, Hoang and Chu-LaGraff stained the chick embryos’ hearts for observation through a confocal microscope.

Chick embryos not treated with Verapamil were used as a control group. Those treated with Verapamil presented abnormal cytoskeletal protein arrangement compared to the control group, with large cavities present.

Thus, Hoang was able to conclude that non-muscle myosin II plays vital roles in S-looping of cardiac development, cervical flexure, head growth and cytoskeletal protein arrangement.

While presenting her research certainly allowed the rest of campus an exciting view into all that she learned, Hoang’s learning experience came from the research itself.

“The hardest part of the research was learning how to troubleshoot on my own. Much of the research was independent. I had to learn to ask questions and approach my advisor,” said Hoang.

A large portion of Hoang’s research was performed over the summer of 2013, thanks to the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship.

“I think all students should attempt to do research here, because it is a great application of the theoretical knowledge learned in class. It is only when you do practical, hands-on work that you really learn,” stated Hoang.

Partly due to this research, Song My Hoang has been accepted for a Summer Research Fellowship at the Mayo Clinic for this upcoming summer.

Through her research with Professor Chu-LaGraff, Hoang has developed an appreciation for research and has realized how much she enjoys its human applications, leading her in the direction of the medical field.



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