March 04, 2019
Kerry Tucker, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy at UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) and biomedical scientist in the Center for Excellence in Neurosciences, was elected to give an oral presentation at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association held in Chicago in November 2018.
“This was a fantastic opportunity to discuss my research with other experts in the field and to establish future collaborations with external collaborators at locations such as the Mayo Clinic,” Tucker said.
Tucker gave a detailed talk describing new research generated in his laboratory on the topic of heart development and congenital heart disease. This research was conducted by Ph.D. student Lindsey Avery Fitzsimons, M.S., a University of Maine Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering and an instructor in UNE COM.
Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect. It is described as structural and functional abnormalities of the heart and the great vessels that develop prior to birth, as a result of genetic mutations.
Genetic mutations resulting in congenital heart disease cannot only compromise the viability of the fetus but also make the heart vulnerable to a lifetime of cardiac disease.
Research conducted by Fitzsimons and presented by Tucker focused on describing congenital myocardial dysfunction, which occurs when the heart muscle does not mature correctly. Fitzsimons has specifically examined a population of embryonic cells called the cardiac neural crest, a mysterious cell type that wanders all the way from the spinal cord to the developing heart, where it then directs crucial processes in the maturation of the heart.
Educating people about CHD, as well as sharing ongoing research, is important to the mission of the Tucker Laboratory. Fitzsimons expressed a particular passion for this topic.
“We have to understand how the heart forms and builds itself normally, in a controlled environment and in the womb of the mother, in order to be able to predict and understand how the adult heart will respond to stress, trauma, injury and aging,” she explained.
The long-term goal of research in the Tucker Lab, as well as that of others in this field, is to refine other scientists’ and clinicians' understandings of the mechanisms leading to CHD so that we can ultimately develop better ways to treat and prevent these diseases.