Summer job pays more than the bills

(Edmonton) Jennifer Lo’s early interest in cardiology got her into the lab, and a pair of high-profile research awards has spurred this medical student to pursue her passion.

Lo, who just finished her first year of medical school at the University of Alberta, recently won the National Student Research Forum Award for Best Poster Presentation in two categories: physiology and cardiology. This forum draws students from all of North America and is mainly composed of master’s and PhD students.

“Winning this award was definitely a big surprise and it’s very rewarding to have this opportunity,” said Lo, who plans to be a cardiologist when she graduates. “It was a really good experience to go to the conference and have a chance to look at all the other fields in medicine.”

Lo is starting her third summer in the lab. She has been working with Gavin Oudit, a professor and cardiologist in the Department of Medicine, and Zamaneh Kassiri, a professor in the Department of Physiology. Lo’s research has helped show that an enzyme, called TACE, acts like a scissor in the heart during heart failure. It cuts a protein called ACE II, which is instrumental in protecting the heart muscle. Now that researchers know TACE plays a major part in heart failure, they’ll test their theory on human samples, and this work could lead to a new drug treatment.

“This is a ‘molecule-to-patient’ project that Jennifer has accomplished over several summers,” said Oudit. “We started looking at the molecule and then went on to cells and we’ve done some work in animal models. Now we have the chance to look at heart-failure samples from patients.”

Oudit couldn’t be happier for his summer student and the medical field. It can only mean good things that a young scientist and future doctor is already making such big strides, he says.

“The irony is that we currently need clinician-scientists more than ever,” said Oudit. “The early involvement in research allows medical students to explore their full potential and often brings early success.”

Lo says she is thinking about doing the MD/PhD program, which allows students to obtain both an MD degree and a PhD degree and prepares them for a career as a clinician-scientist. 

She still has time to make the decision. Until then, the summer research student, who is supported by the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and the Alberta Innovates– Health Solutions Summer Studentship program, will continue work in Oudit’s lab and further develop her knowledge.

“Without the research we won’t be able to get new drugs or new understanding of how everything works in the body,” said Lo.