Litsa Kranias, PhD, feels lucky. The chair of the department of pharmacology and cell biophysics and distinguished researcher recently received a renewal for a major National Institutes of Health (NIH) research grant which will help her team continue to study the regulating action of calcium in the heart.
This grant will enter its 28th year at UC, with an overall longevity of 32 years and a renewal sum of $1.95 million.
“We started with experiments in test tubes and advanced to genetic manipulation,” she says.
“This continual funding, which is often rare, is truly enabling us to take our research from the bench to the bedside.”
Kranias, who has been a faculty member with the UC College of Medicine since 1978, has been there every step of the way. Her research began at a very basic biochemical level and progressed to knocking out genes or replicating copies of genes in models to see how it influenced activity in the heart.
“From these models we found that some of the genes correlated directly with cardiac function,” she says, adding that the genes that affected heart function were those that controlled calcium cycling.
“We specified one gene, in particular, that seemed to be an inhibitor of the heart’s pumping action. “
Current therapy for heart failure is aimed at treating the symptoms of this disease. With this discovery, we were able to look more closely at the etiology of the disease and suggest potential gene therapies.”
Kranias’ team completed several studies in mouse models and then conducted experiments in large animal models. She says the team is now involved in clinical trials with human patients.
“It’s great because not only have we been able to take our research frombench to bedside, but we have been able to work backwards,” she says.
“We have been screening patients with heart failure to see if they have defects in these important genes and are examining the ways that their cardiac function is affected.”
She says that she is also working with colleagues at other prestigious U.S. and international universities to help screen for genetic mutations that could help in diagnosing heart failure before it occurs.
“Once we find the mutation in humans, we then go back to create the same mutation in animal models with hopes of finding ways to understand and reverse or block it in heart failure,” she says.
Kranias has received numerous grants and awards for her innovative research throughout the years, including the Career Development Award and the MERIT Award from the NIH. The first award is given to beginning scientists with innovative research initiatives to help kickstart their careers.
The second is a five-year award, funded up to 10 years, for innovative research. Kranias also is a 2008 winner of the Daniel Drake Medal, considered the highest honor awarded by the College of Medicine. Nominations are based on outstanding or unique contributions to medical education, scholarship or research.
Kranias says her team will continue to advance its research and—in her lifetime, she hopes—find ways to provide gene therapies for patients, essentially preventing heart failure from occurring or slowing down its progress.
“I love my work,” she says with a smile. “But it’s even better when we have the support needed to search for ways to improve lives all over the world.”