Predoctoral research scholar wins American Heart Association fellowship

Chuankai Zhou

Chuankai Zhou, a predoctoral researcher in the lab of Stowers Investigator Rong Li, PhD, has been awarded a highly competitive predoctoral fellowship by the American Heart Association (AHA). The AHA predoctoral fellowship will provide Zhou with $52,000 of support toward the study of misfolded proteins and their contribution to cardiovascular disease.

Protein misfolding and the resulting aggregates are observed in various human illnesses including cardiovascular diseases. Known as protein aggregate these disorders are characterized by clumps of abnormally folded proteins that interfere with normal cell function.

Specifically, Zhou will use baker’s yeast to study the interactions of protein aggregates with mitochondria, which generate the chemical energy necessary to power cells’ biochemical reactions. Heart muscle cells, in particular, require a tremendous amount of energy to keep the heart beating, and mitochondrial dysfunction causes many heart failures.

“Cells can rid themselves of protein aggregates by either degrading them or refolding them with the help of chaperones,” explains Zhou. “My long-term goal is to decipher the cross talk between chaperone-mediated refolding and mitochondria and to apply the resulting knowledge to the treatment of cardiovascular disease.”

The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke – America’s number one and number four killers, respectively.