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Li Wang, PhD, research associate in the Qian Lab and a member of UNC McAllister Heart Institute, has received the prestigious Career Development Award from the AHA. The award is given to highly promising young scientists in their early years to explore innovative questions in the field of cardiovascular research.

Li Wang, PhD

(Republished from the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom)

Li Wang, PhD, Research Associate in the Qian lab at McAllister Heart Institute has received a Career Development Award from AHA with 3 years funding of $231,000 to support her research project “Role of Autophagy in Direct Cardiac Reprogramming.”

Dr.Wang obtained her PhD degree from Chinese Academy of Sciences (Beijing, China) in 2012, and joined Dr. Li Qian’s lab for postdoctoral training since then. Wang is interested in further developing and refining cellular reprogramming approaches to regenerate or repair an injured heart.

Cellular reprogramming of a somatic non-myocyte directly into an induced cardiomyocyte (iCM) has been achieved by forced expression of defined factors. This novel strategy holds great promise for treating heart failure, a common and morbid disease caused by irreversible loss of functional cardiomyocytes. However, the limited understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms of iCM reprogramming has significantly hindered its clinical applicability. Refinement of this technique will not be possible without sufficient understanding on basic mechanisms of iCM reprogramming.

Wang proposed to explore how iCMs remodel the existing fibroblast structure and establish a bona fide cardiac program. For this funded project, she hypothesized that autophagy, an evolutionally conserved recycling process, is activated so as to orchestrate the authentic cell fate conversion. She will use the research fund to characterize the dynamics of autophagy and define the role that autophagy plays during iCM reprogramming. Because autophagy can be manipulated through pharmacological approaches (i.e. small molecules and drugs), iCM technology may move to the next stage of application with easy manipulation and high efficiency. Wang’s innovative research direction of linking cell homeostasis to epigenetic landscaping to cell fate will also advance our knowledge about cell fate determination and the nature of cell identify.