New Technologies in the Health Innovation Pavilion

This morning I strayed from my usual hangout in the basic sciences sessions to investigate the hottest new products in the Health Innovation Pavilion at the Health Tech Competition. In this event, 8 highly talented applicant companies were allotted 3 minutes to pitch their company or product, followed by 5 minutes of Q&A from a panel of venture capitalists and AHA VIPs. Contestants were scored on novelty, innovation, potential patient outcomes, ability to address patient and provider needs, and strategy to launch and sell, among other criteria.

A focus emerged early in the competition: data aggregation. We’re seeing start-up companies developing digital platforms that collect massive amounts of patient data and process it to improve cardiovascular health outcomes. The target consumer varied from individual to hospital system, and the aims and applications stretched from prevention to detection and diagnosis. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Seqster’s software that integrates health records, DNA and fitness data in one place, though I thought all the panelists in the “real-life Shark Tank” had interesting and educational pitches.

The judges’ deliberations illuminated potential advances and pitfalls facing the field, and I think we need to ask ourselves a few things as both scientists and consumers. How might we respond if an adverse event is detected, and what are the consequences if something is missed? How efficient and accurate are the technologies? Who owns the data?

The pitch competition today demonstrated that health technologies hold great potential. It’s clear that as our tools evolve to improve patient health, the direction and guidance provided by our congregated cardiovascular experts, like those at Session 2018, will be invaluable.


Annie Roessler Headshot

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


Flow for the Positive Pharmacologist

On a camping trip to the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last summer, I had the distinction of being our cohort’s sole expert on the waterfowl skimming the waves of Lake Superior. Many thanks to my undergraduate degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, where I studied (among other things in the liberal arts model) courting and copulation in North American bird species. By my senior year, I had pivoted away from animal studies to pursue a more human-oriented training in the sciences. Fewer feathers, more pharmacology. And yet, I occasionally reach back and reflect on my work as a pharmacologist through the lens of a behavioral neuroscientist.

This month I’ve been chewing on the concept of “flow,” established by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He theorized that people are happiest when they reach a state of “flow” – complete focus and absorption in the work at hand. Flow is a universal experience that can be extended to many types of activities where your mind is stretched and your skills are engaged to accomplish an intrinsically rewarding challenge. I’d argue that this includes lab work. Now in the final stretch of my degree, my schedule is pleasantly full and data collection is more satisfying than ever. I’m arriving at work early, staying late, and getting in the zone at the lab bench.

I’m finding flow as a scientist…

  • In the meditative practice of loading a PCR plate. Your attention is focused on the feeling of the pipette gripped in your hand, and your breathing synchs with your movements between the tubes of samples and the 96 wells in the plate.
  • In an exploratory dive into the literature. A hot coffee on one side, your favorite pen and a new notepad on the other, and time falling away as the day transforms into a slurry of abstracts and hypotheses.
  • Immersed in data analysis. You’ve circled the area of interest on a histology slide, plugged some commands into ImageJ to quantify it, and the numbers fall neatly down the rows to populate your Excel template.

Finding flow in the workplace is said to enhance positivity, increase performance, and spur creativity. To bookend this summer of research, I’d like to offer well-wishes to the Early Career Voices readership community. I hope that you are all able to reach a happy state of “flow” in all your current pursuits, scientific and otherwise.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


Wonder and Skepticism: You Shake My Nerves and Rattle My Brain

Last week I stood beneath the stage lights in the cozy back corner of The Empty Bottle, a dive bar and music venue serving up good vibes in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. They scrawl the names of each night’s performers, often alternative bands, on the front door in chalk. On Wednesday evening the entrance broadcasted “Wonder and Skepticism,” a local series offering the chance to meet a real-life scientist. That’s me!

Annie presenting at The Empty Bottle in Chicago

The Empty Bottle has two things going for it: slinging grad student stipend-friendly adult beverages and occupying an address within walking distance to my apartment. When the organizers of Wonder and Skepticism invited me to share my research, I accepted with great enthusiasm.

That’s how I found myself and my PowerPoint slides on the same stage where Alt-J played in 2012 for a measly $15 cover (last month they slayed the crowd at Chicago’s Huntington Bank Pavilion). Giving a talk about your research at a bar is a peculiar experience. On the one hand, it was a delightful challenge to distill five years of intense bench work on the molecular mechanisms of cardiac phenomena into a fifteen-minute talk that any non-scientist could understand. On the other hand, I had a stamp of a bicycle and held a cheap domestic IPA.

As I scanned the audience, I realized that the people seated in front of me were just as early in their careers as I was in mine, but we’re doing totally different things with our lives. Take their attendance as evidence that my peers are genuinely curious about the cool things that scientists are up to. Scientists make up a small percentage of the labor force; perhaps the job seems unconventional, even glamorous, from the outside. It sure feels that way sometimes, especially when I’m gowned up in PPE. That would win anybody’s attention.

I came armed with a strategy. I made the talk relatable – which is too easy, unfortunately – as the leading cause of death worldwide, cardiovascular disease likely touches many of my listeners in some way. I addressed some common mysteries, like when one might use the defibrillator bolted on the wall. I incorporated the strange and unusual, such as how the FDA recalled half a million pacemakers last year because of hacking fears. To assess engagement levels and adjust my cadence as needed, I checked the audience for visual feedback, like head nods or raised eyebrows, and I kept my ears perked for verbal cues, like some low hemming and even a gasp from the back row.

The thing is, frequent correspondence occurs between student and PI, or PI and funding agency, or within departments. These conversations are important and ensure that we’re doing high quality, worthwhile science. However, the whispers inside the ivory tower often fail to reach the ears of people who pay for it via their tax dollars or charitable donations, the same people who will benefit the most from its mission. I think that keeping a steady dialogue with the public should be a scientist’s responsibility, just as much as publishing a peer-reviewed article or attending a conference. Talking about my life with my neighbors for 15 minutes took little effort – after all, I’d been practicing my elevator speech every waking moment for the past five years of grad school. Plus, I had fun. At the end of the night, I added my name to the walls of the green room, feeling like a rock star and grateful that I could share my story.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


The Dirt on Deep Sequencing- My Experience with the Revolutionary Technique

Temperatures hit a record high this weekend in Chicago. With the mercury rising in my apartment, fans monopolized every outlet and my windows gaped open at all hours. Travelers and tourists in the Loop dabbed at beads of sweat hanging on their foreheads, their cheeks flushed and bare shoulders browning in the sun. On the other side of the Windy City, imagine opening the door to Loyola’s Center for Translational Research and Education and being greeted by a rush of A/C from our LEED-certified building. It chills you to your core. That’s what introducing deep sequencing into my dissertation project felt like. Absolutely refreshing.

I’ve been using deep sequencing, also known as next-generation sequencing or second-generation sequencing, to make sense of the biologically complex changes occurring in cardioprotection. Deep sequencing is a technique that allows scientists to determine the quantity and identity of nucleotide sequences in a biological sample. I hypothesized that there were measurable changes in the left ventricular transcriptome following electrically-induced cardioprotection. RNA-sequencing was applied to quantify the relative abundance and differential expression of genes after the stimulus. There is ample literature offering a detailed overview of the methods and workflow, which I referenced frequently throughout the project.1,2 I also received a lot of help from the very skilled bioinformatics experts at Loyola Genomics Core and their collaborators, who completed the sequencing and analysis. Herein, I’m offering an honest reflection on my first experience with RNA-sequencing. It’s been exciting and satisfying to work through these challenges:

  • Challenge #1: Starting out strong. Because of the sensitivity of the technique, any confounding variables in the sample collection and RNA isolation steps must be meticulously controlled for.
    • Solution: The subjects were sex- and age-matched, treatments were administered on the same day and time, and tissues were collected identically. The RNA was of high quality and abundance before it could be processed (this took a couple of tries). A dedicated RNA work station was used to shield my samples from RNAses, and we limited freezing and thawing whenever possible.
  • Challenge #2: Making sense of results afterwards. Large data sets need to be properly analyzed and interpreted before substantial conclusions can be drawn.
    • Solution: There are a number of sophisticated computation tools that we used with our Core to analyze the genes and pathways that changed between conditions. I chose to focus on genes that had high base read counts, high fold changes between the sham and treatment, and a known role in cardioprotection. I validated fold changes with RT-qPCR before utilizing pharmacological inhibitors or knock-out mouse models to determine the functional role of those genes as mediators of cardioprotection.
  • Challenge #3: Time and money throughout. Sequencing N=3-4 in 2 groups had a 4-8 week turnaround and cost us several thousand dollars to complete.
    • Solution: Well, there isn’t an easy one here. I can, however, advocate for patience with the process and confidence in the product. It appears that as technologies continue advancing and more investigators are using this technique, speed is increasing and prices are dropping globally.

RNA-sequencing has revolutionized my dissertation project. I began with a small number of RNA samples and ended with a list of potential gene candidates and a burning curiosity about their functions. The findings are driving my current research pursuits and helping me to answer our biggest questions about the molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection.

the dirt on deep sequencing - tips and tricks from my PhD


  1. Goldman, D., & Domschke, K. (2014). Making sense of deep sequencing. The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 17(10), 1717–1725. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1461145714000789
  2. Han, Y., Gao, S., Muegge, K., Zhang, W., & Zhou, B. (2015). Advanced Applications of RNA Sequencing and Challenges. Bioinformatics and Biology Insights, 9(Suppl 1), 29–46. http://doi.org/10.4137/BBI.S28991

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


We Should All Be Pharmacologists.

The setting is every wedding, reunion, or family gathering in the Spring of 2018, and I’m in a circle of distant relatives or friends-of-friends, clarifying the distinction between a pharmacologist and a pharmacist. If you want to be the life of the party at this summer’s neighborhood BBQ, explain to the stranger next to you in the buffet line why you’re not “that kind of doctor,” and yet your career requires over two decades of schooling.

Readers of the Early Career Voices column are a different audience – students, clinicians, and public health specialists – possessing a much better grasp of the pharmacologist’s day-to-day than my great aunt or high school classmate. Most AHA professionals even had a pharmacology course or two at some point in their training. I’m here to convince you, fellow Early Career Professionals, that regardless of what profession you put on your tax forms last month, we should all be pharmacologists.

Plug in “pharmacologist” on your favorite job-search board. You’ll find that pharmacologists influence every aspect of a drug’s journey from the lab bench to the patients. In academia and industry, pharmacologists work in multidisciplinary and collaborative teams as experts in drug absorption, distribution throughout the body, metabolism, and elimination. They understand disease states and collect, interpret, present, and explain data on a drug’s action at all levels.  A “drug” can encompass everything from a small-molecule inhibitor that has been synthesized in the lab to biologics and immunotherapeutics.

In my current position as a PhD candidate in basic cardiovascular sciences, I’m routinely utilizing pharmacological tools to accomplish my research goals. If I hypothesize that a protein of interest is critical to cardioprotection, I use a drug to inhibit that protein’s function and determine whether the cardioprotective effect persists in its absence. You’ll see me present this sort of work at AHA’s Scientific Sessions, when we all come together from our various career paths to talk about cardiovascular disease.

What should you consider when standing in front of a pharmacologist’s poster at Sessions? The same sorts of questions you should ask anytime throughout the year when reading a research article, listening to a seminar, or designing experiments that involve drugs. A few suggestions from a real life-pharmacologist:

  • The chemical nature of the drug. What is the mechanism of action? Does it get past the blood brain barrier? How long does it last in the body?
  • Frequency, timing, and route of administration. How often and in what way should the drug be given based on its known kinetics?
  • Dose (mg/kg). What does gives you the best therapeutic or on-target effects and minimizes side effects?
  • Specificity and efficacy. Does the drug work in the way that you expect it to, and how well does it do so?
  • Safety and drug-drug interactions. Is there a risk of adverse reactions, and does the drug play nice with any other drugs in the system?

The answers to these questions are extraordinarily valuable to biomedical scientists, but can be just as helpful to professionals throughout the AHA. Pharmacology is deeply integrated into many of the core cardiovascular disciplines; by strengthening our pharmacology skillset, familiarizing ourselves with our drug toolbox, and considering how pharmacologists work, we can better understand and critique developments across the cardiovascular field.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


The Study Strategy That Got Me Through Grad School

It’s no secret that in grad school, one needs to digest immense amounts of information in an incredibly limited amount of time between experiments. Landscape mapping, also described as mind mapping, is the outlining strategy that saved me in the academic big leagues. Originally a business analysis tool to assess market competitors, I still embrace the technique any time I need to crystallize my thoughts.

The first major task is to take inventory of what info I have. Wielding a highlighter, I identify the key players in a lecture or review article, and classify them by relevant characteristics, whether that’s drug class, signaling cascade, receptor family, etc. Next, I map the content on a single page. I prefer to divide a piece of computer paper into 8 equal segments, assigning one major concept per section, so that I condense the entire thing into one visual field.

Decluttering the info and organizing it onto one page helps me identify what areas are being served and the gaps in my comprehension. It also places each individual concept within a broader context, giving a bird’s eye view so that I can identify relationships, patterns, and trends.

So what?
Now that I am interviewing for post-doc positions, I’m still tasked with learning a vast amount of information in a limited amount of time (does this ever end?). For instance, if I want to grasp the nature of a therapeutic area, summarize a researcher’s major findings, or create a profile of a pharmaceutical company’s pipeline, I’ll map it out on a single page. Right before the exam I would pull out my map for a quick snapshot of what I would be tested on. Now, I look at it in the lobby before my interview.

Figures, tables and graphs with high data-to-ink ratios play an important role in peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts. Scientific illustrators such as Dr. Mike Natter (@mike.natter) or Dr. Sarah Clifford (@sarahjclifford), each amassing over 75K followers on Instagram, also quickly and effectively summarize their medical school lectures in a single post. If you prefer a visual-spatial learning style, I’d imagine you’re already using your own version of this technique. Do you have a secret study tip? Share it with the rest of us!

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


Why I Study Cardioprotection

That question.

It’s always looming. It comes from the tenured professor at the back of the room during my annual progress report to the department. It comes from the clinician from another field who pauses in front of my AHA Sessions poster. Heck, it even comes from my mother as I chat about my day in the lab. It reliably resurfaces with uncanny punctuality every time I talk about my research.

“So… if you can’t predict a heart attack, why does this matter?”

My dissertation project focuses on cardioprotection. That is, the phenomenon that a nonlethal stimulus applied prior to a heart attack can protect the heart against the insult.

Cardioprotection was first investigated in the context of acute myocardial infarction (MI). In the 1980s, it was discovered that brief, nonlethal bouts of ischemia and reperfusion (I/R) to the heart prior to a subsequent ischemic challenge can reduce the size of the infarct in a canine model, termed ischemic preconditioning1. This study was seminal because it demonstrated the existence of an endogenous cardioprotective network that might be harnessed for therapeutic benefit. In later studies, researchers found that ischemia and reperfusion at a remote vascular bed, organ, or limb can bring also protect the heart via remote preconditioning2, 3. Remote preconditioning is even more clinically translational and relevant; it’s far less challenging to slip a blood pressure cuff on a patient’s bicep than, say, occlude an artery.

But still. These studies looked at interventions applied before the heart attack.

If you can’t predict a heart attack, is this important?

My answer is a well-rehearsed and resounding YES. Let me summarize and consolidate, quick and dirty, the vast amount of info I’ve learned during my PhD about the value of preconditioning and cardioprotection. Here are three reasons why preconditioning and cardioprotection are important:

1. Some of the pathways invoked by preconditioning might also be useful during or after reperfusion. Basic scientists uncovering the complex signaling and mechanism of cardioprotection have revealed a number of therapeutic targets that could lead to the development of drugs or therapeutics that activate these pathways when most needed4. In other words, we believe that advancements developed within the preconditioning models might also be useful for perconditioning (during reperfusion) or postconditioning (after reperfusion). This gives us hope that we can intervene during the ambulance ride, at the time of stenting, or throughout recovery and still benefit the patient.

2. Cardioprotection can be reframed outside of acute myocardial infarction. There is a need for myocardial salvage in clinical scenarios where a high risk of ischemia and reperfusion injury is expected. These situations include cardiac surgery and coronary artery bypass graft surgery, organ transplantation, where situations of I/R adversely affect the organ’s lifespan, and elective percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). PCI alone is performed on millions of patients annually, and perioperational MI occurs in at least 10% of those patients, depending on how you measure it5. In such cases, strategies to preserve myocardia can reduce susceptibility to perioperative injury in situations where MI can be reliably predicted.

3. The jackpot— any evidence that cardioprotective interventions might work in man. A slew of clinical trials have suggested that cardioprotection, whether based in ischemic techniques or pharmacological strategies, can be effective in humans6. The caveat is that these clinical studies are inconsistent and vary widely in the exact methodology and measured outcome (such as biomarkers, imaging, or major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events). We still don’t have an approved cardioprotective therapy, but this seems encouraging!

As an early career investigator, routinely and enthusiastically defending my work has led to some challenging conversations. Those difficult, engaging discussions have given me guts as a grad student and awareness as a scientist.

Now I can focus on that next big question: “When are you going to graduate?”

  1. Murry, C.E., R.B. Jennings, and K.A. Reimer, Preconditioning with ischemia: a delay of lethal cell injury in ischemic myocardium. Circulation, 1986. 74(5): p. 1124-36.
  2. Przyklenk, K., et al., Regional ischemic ‘preconditioning’ protects remote virgin myocardium from subsequent sustained coronary occlusion. Circulation, 1993. 87(3): p. 893-9.
  3. Kharbanda, R.K., et al., Transient limb ischemia induces remote ischemic preconditioning in vivo. Circulation, 2002. 106(23): p. 2881-3.
  4. Hausenloy, D.J., Cardioprotection techniques: preconditioning, postconditioning and remote conditioning (basic science). Curr Pharm Des, 2013. 19(25): p. 4544-63.
  5. Lansky, A.J. and G.W. Stone, Periprocedural myocardial infarction: prevalence, prognosis, and prevention. Circ Cardiovasc Interv, 2010. 3(6): p. 602-10.
  6. Heusch, G., Cardioprotection: chances and challenges of its translation to the clinic. Lancet, 2013. 381(9861): p. 166-75.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


It’s Electric!

As this crowd knows, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and though we’ve made great advancements to reduce morbidity and mortality in these patients, there is a desperate search for innovative new treatment strategies.
Traditionally, most chronic conditions are addressed with small molecule-based drugs that bind to their molecular target, exert downstream effects, and bring about therapeutic benefits. In severe cases, a visit to the operating room may be warranted in addition to a pharmacological treatment. For a heart attack, stenting and timely reperfusion remains the preferred emergency intervention.
Drugs and surgeries, though lifesaving and indispensable, are associated with off-target effects, invasive operations, and other negative complications. The ideal therapy would maximize positive patient outcomes and minimize any associated unpleasantries.
Electroceuticals, also known as bioelectronics, are a radical new approach to medical treatment that harness the power of electricity to safely and precisely treat an array of conditions, from sleep apnea to Parkinson’s disease. These are tiny devices that can be implanted in a patient to survey or modify nerve signaling in her body. The most familiar electroceuticals in clinical practice include defibrillators and pacemakers, but recent advances such as vagus nerve and spinal cord stimulation indicate that there is great potential for this field to be explored, expanded, and refined for cardiovascular disease applications.
A spark of interest is growing in the eyes of several industry leaders, and some have already devoted resources to the development and commercialization of bioelectronics medicines. Galvani Bioelectronics, the daughter company of GlaxoSmithKline and Alphabet’s Verily Life Science, is one such investment in the advancement of electronic medicine.
Basic scientists like me have much curiosity and some concerns. Among them, the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of how electroceuticals elicit their effects are relatively unexplored in some fields.  Such challenges call on an interdisciplinary community of expert scientists, engineers, and clinicians to focus their talents and push for solutions. Hopefully we will all be shocked (in a good way!) by the disruptive technologies this field will bring us in the future.

You can read further about Electroceuticals Spark Interest here.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


Winning Over The Hearts Of Future Scientists: My Experience With Go Red Goes STEM

On a chilly Thursday in late November, Loyola’s Women in Science group teamed up with The American Heart Association in Chicago to cohost their Go Red Goes STEM event. Young women from area high schools spent the day at Northwestern University’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, where they joined up with graduate assistants in biomedical sciences for a breakout session, “Healthy Habits for a Healthy Heart.”

The room held about 7 graduate assistants, a few tables of high schoolers, and an entire flock of sheep hearts – over 2 dozen of them, more than one for each student.  My MD/PhD candidate friend, Amanda, had meticulously sliced each sample to strategically showcase the anatomy. We distributed gloves, safety goggles, lab coats, hair ties, and hearts, and our future scientists were ready to learn.

Since Amanda and I are the cardiovascular pharmacologists of the bunch, we set out to explain the amazing organ that powers our entire circulatory system. The heart is divided into four chambers; two atria that pull blood into the heart, and two strong ventricles that push blood out of the heart.

We asked the students to pinch the thick, mighty walls of the left ventricle with their gloved hands. The left ventricle pumps oxygenated blood – about 5 liters of it – to the entire body. If an insult to the left ventricle thins or scars that muscle tissue, the heart can’t work as well as it should. We then called on the class to trace the left anterior descending coronary artery, which feeds the heart with its own supply of fresh blood. Imagine, we quizzed them, what might happen when that blood supply is blocked in a heart attack. 

As the young women held the hearts in front of them, turning them around and inspecting every angle, I circled the room to answer any questions about heart anatomy. The etymology associated with the coronary artery calls to mind how it wraps around the heart like a crown decorates the head of a queen. I wished I could tell every young woman in that room that she can be like a queen, too – a powerful, strong, intelligent, leader of her generation.

I navigated Twitter that evening by the event’s dedicated hashtag and discovered a wave of tweets about “girl power,” mentions of women in medicine, photos of our session, and a sprinkling of scientist emoji. Though the event was over, I felt hopeful that the students would carry the day’s enthusiasm for science with them into the world. 

In the following weeks, I found myself wondering about our next generation of scientists in the place where I do my deepest thinking: the aisles of Target. My mind wandered as I scanned the shelves. Did these young women have enough role models in our field when they were growing up? Were the toy manufacturers succeeding in making technological games gender-neutral? Were there were enough NASA tees in the girls’ section?

Our future female doctors and nurses, scientists and engineers are out there, and they are going to change the world someday. It’s my New Year’s wish that our community of early career professionals can help them to realize that passion for science and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

Annie Roessler Headshot

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


Put Me In, Coach!

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 Headshot

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