My family goes through the same motions every Thanksgiving: Mash the potatoes. Carve the turkey. Hang the “house divided” flag above the front porch and howl at figures on television colliding bodies over a wayward pigskin. This Thanksgiving weekend coincided with the greatest college rivalry football games of the year for us. My mom attended the University of Louisville and my dad is a proud University of Kentucky alumnus – victory in the battle of the bluegrass is as sweet and as savored as the last slice of pumpkin pie. I went to a liberal arts school; I’m exempt from choosing a side.
Thanksgiving and The Big Game followed shortly after the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, an experience that supplied my football-loving family with robust dinner discussions as we feasted on creamy, roasted, gravy-drenched fares. What better place to ponder heart health than when seated before a minefield of artery-clogging treats? The beautiful irony is that AHA had some things in common with my holiday weekend. That convention center in Anaheim felt like a pep rally – the crowds, the lively conversations, the comradery—but like we were all rooting for the same team.
Tens of thousands of people congregated at Sessions, each with their own position in the lineup, all working to tackle cardiovascular disease. I’m a member of the Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences (BCVS), and I was drafted into my lab to advance our scientific understanding of cardioprotection. My basic science colleagues gave excellent talks at the conference. They demonstrated the advances made in our field by harnessing the powers of bioengineering, gene editing, and cell and tissue culture to discover new drugs, personalize treatments, and model, predict, or diagnose disease. I thought the basic science sessions, as always, were incredible. Indeed, there is tremendous value in foundational, translational research to solve the world’s toughest challenges in cardiovascular disease.
However, AHA is made of many Councils, and the week in Anaheim offered an opportunity to venture beyond my comfort level and learn of the advances in other research circles. When I arrived at Scientific Sessions, I was concerned that I would fumble through the clinical seminars. I’ve always admired the work of clinicians in my field, but I was anxious that their Sessions would go over my head, the equivalent of sitting in a class after skipping the prerequisites. Boy, was I wrong. The clinical seminars were among the most captivating events of the conference! In the Late-Breaking Science: Innovative Therapies and Novel Applications session, I heard updates on a device to shunt blood between the atria, neurotoxin injections that might calm a quivering heart, and tiny, powerful lipid bubbles called exosomes to ease the scars and maladaptive muscle wall changes of cardiovascular events in select patients’ hearts. These sessions deeply moved and inspired me, as I understood very clearly in that moment that, in fact, we were all working toward the same goal. These were my allies. My friends. My teammates.
This blog is where the football analogies end for me, and these days, I spend far more time in the lab than I do watching sports anyway. I just want to emphasize how Scientific Sessions made me feel like I was standing in the nose-bleed section with a clear view of the hypothetical game. I could see how the work we are doing in our labs at the kickoff could potentially push all the way through to a touchdown in the clinic’s end zone. It made me feel like I was part of something much larger than myself. I boarded the plane to Chicago fired up with “team spirit,” eager to don my uniform (er, lab coat…) and get back in the game. Go team!
See AHA’s recommendations on what to do with your halftime snacks.
Annie Roessler is a PhD Candidate at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Her research focuses on the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection. She tweets @ThePilotStudy and blogs at flaskhalffull.com