University of Calgary

Understanding heart failure

UToday HomeFebruary 5, 2013

Undergraduate student Brodie Lipon says USRP grants help students benefit from mentorship. Photo by Riley BrandtUndergraduate student Brodie Lipon says USRP grants help students benefit from mentorship. Photo by Riley BrandtBrodie Lipon was impressed with what he had read about Dr. Paul Fedak’s leading edge work — including pioneering a method of using a biological adhesive to glue the breast bone together after open heart surgery — so the third-year undergraduate student emailed the cardiac surgeon and scientist to apply to work in his lab.

They met, discussed Lipon’s long term goals, and before you could say Markin Undergraduate Student Research Project in Health and Wellness (USRP), Lipon was working in Fedak’s lab.

Since September, Lipon has been helping study how human heart cells respond to heart failure. “Basically my project involves using human cardiac fibroblasts — cells from heart tissue — to study cellular differentiation and protein expression associated with heart failure and what factors cause or inhibit the process.”

It’s thought that fibroblasts cause scar tissue in the heart, says Fedak, and Lipon is helping researchers understand that process. “We take tissue from the patients I operate on and then we take that tissue into the lab where Brodie’s been extracting the human fibroblast cells from the tissue and growing them in lab.”

Ultimately, Fedak’s lab is working toward developing a sort of engineered tissue patch that can replace damaged or scarred tissue in the heart.
“He’s made a concrete contribution to the project,” says Fedak. “He’s worked very hard, he’s learned the techniques that are required to do the project and he’s worked independently and pulled consistent data. I think he’s done very well.”

Fedak says USRP grants give undergraduate students enough time to really get to know the lab and benefit from mentorship. With the USRP, undergraduate students are funded for six to 10 hours of research a week during the Fall/Winter academic sessions.

As for Lipon, he says he wasn’t really sure what he was getting himself into or what he would be up to in Fedak’s lab. “I didn’t really have a specific idea of what I would be doing but I just wanted to learn what research was like and how to work in a lab,” he says.

And now that’s he’s “had a great time and learned a lot,” Lipon is planning to apply to medical school.

Learn more about the Markin USRP.