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Lei awarded American Heart Association Fellowship

Grant provides funding to pre-doctoral students interested in researching cardiovascular health, cerebrovascular health or brain health

Yuanjiu “Abby” Lei, a fifth-year graduate student at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine, was recently awarded an American Heart Association (AHA) Pre-Doctoral Fellowship.

The award will support her research on chemotherapy-related heart dysfunction, examining why a widely used chemotherapeutic drug causes heart-related problems for some cancer patients and survivors.

“The chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin is widely used to treat both blood and solid tumors in adults and children,” Lei said. “Toxic side effects on the heart and cardiovascular system have been appreciated for a long time, but the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. My fellowship project is exploring how doxorubicin causes changes in energy utilization and triggers inflammation in the heart. This research is very interesting to me and aligns perfectly with what this fellowship is about.”

Lei works in the lab of Phillip West, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology at the College of Medicine. West will work with Carl Tong, MD, PhD, FACC, associate professor in the Department of Medical Physiology at the College of Medicine, as Lei’s research co-sponsors during the year-long fellowship.

“This is a prestigious and competitive fellowship, and I am very proud of Abby’s achievements,” West said. “I am hopeful that her work on this project will lead to new insight into chemotherapy-related heart dysfunction and improve the lives of patients suffering from this condition.”

The purpose of the AHA Fellowship is to enhance the research and clinical training skills of pre-doctoral or clinical health professional degree training program students who intend to pursue a career as a researcher in global cardiovascular health, cerebrovascular health or brain health.

Lei earned her bachelor’s degree in biotechnology and her master’s degree in cell biology from Shandong University in China. Lei is currently a graduate student pursuing her PhD in Medical Sciences at the College of Medicine.

The award period began in April of this year and will run through the end of March 2022. It provides stipend and health insurance support for Lei during her last year as a graduate student.

Lei hopes her research in pre-clinical models will one day lead to better diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients suffering from off-target effects of their chemotherapy.

“I was very excited when I saw that I received this fellowship,” Lei said. “I’m very close to graduating, so I feel like this fellowship will help demonstrate that I can do independent work because ultimately, I hope to have my own lab studying cardiovascular diseases.”

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