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The Vascular Discovery Meeting Is This Week!

Scientific knowledge is constantly evolving, and scientific meetings change over time to stay current with the target audience. Sometimes a revamp of the conference name is timely. For example, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) retitled its annual Renal Week to Kidney Week in 2011 to move away from using nomenclature that might confuse the layperson (renal: late Latin adjective “relating to the kidneys”). This year, the AHA’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology / Peripheral Vascular Disease (ATVB/PVD) meeting has been renamed Vascular Discovery and is happening in San Francisco May 10-12, 2018.

Thanks to the AHA Early Blogger program, I will be attending the ATVB conference for the first time, and will be live-tweeting for the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA). (Yes I still occasionally refer to the meeting as ATVB… not quite used to its snazzy new title yet!) I am totally stoked to be going to ATVB as vascular research has been a core interest of mine for several years, ever since fellowship training in the lab of Dr. Cecilia Giachelli at the University of Washington. Chronic kidney disease accelerates vascular disease at both the intimal and medial layers of arteries; i.e., atherosclerosis and medial vascular calcification. Medial vascular calcification is particularly intriguing as this is seen in the arteries of children on dialysis, without atherosclerosis (presumably because the children lack athero risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and aging). Dr. Giachelli identified a fascinating phenotype switch that occurs in the vascular smooth muscle cells of patients with chronic kidney disease; the cells start behaving like bone and deposit calcium-phosphate crystals in the artery wall, leading to vascular calcification and ultimately heart failure.

So, you may ask, why would a vascular cell decide to build bone in the wall of the blood vessel? This could be a defense mechanism, to avoid the cell imploding and dying. It turns out that too much intracellular calcium or phosphorus (an imbalance that can happen in chronic kidney disease) can trigger apoptosis (which also promotes vascular calcification!). By turning on genes that allow the cell to export calcium-phosphate mineral, the vascular cells avoid programmed cell death. Unfortunately, big picture-wise, this cell-centric ninja move fails the body as vascular calcification is associated with heart failure and sudden cardiac death. (Of note, Dr. Catherine Shanahan – one of the first to describe the role of apoptosis in uremic vascular calcification – will be a speaker at Vascular Discovery this week.)

ATVB is one of the smaller AHA conferences and thus the “concurrent sessions dilemma” is less of an issue. (Not like the AHA Scientific Sessions or ASN Kidney Week where one has to make a choice between 5-8 talks that are going on All At The Same Time.)  The Vascular Discovery program this week includes sessions on precision medicine, diabetes-vascular complications, lipid metabolism, gut microbiome and inflammation. For vascular biology enthusiasts, this meeting is a must.

Follow #JAHAMeetingReport and #AHAEarlyCareerBlogger for live tweets from Vascular Discovery. And don’t forget to show your support for vascular disease awareness and research by wearing red socks on Friday!

Red sock movement

Wei Ling Lau Headshot

Wei Ling Lau, MD is Assistant Professor in Nephrology at University of California-Irvine, where she studies vascular calcification and brain microbleeds in chronic kidney disease. She is currently funded by an AHA Innovative Research Grant, and has been a speaker for CardioRenal University and the American Society of Nephrology.

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Vascular Discovery 2018: Prologue

This year, the previously known ATVB conference will debut its new name as the Vascular Discovery: From Genes to Medicine 2018 Scientific Sessions. The collaboration of three well-known AHA Scientific Councils, (the Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, the Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease and the Council on Genomic and Precision Medicine) will provide a unique opportunity for attendees to make the most out of their scientific experience, network with connoisseurs in the field and establish new collaborations.

As a scientist in the early stages of my career, my conference agenda will be focused on the followings:

Early Career Training Sessions – Hallmark of the Event

Attendees talk during the Early Career Sessions at ATVB17

Based on my experience from the last few years, I will look forward to attending the Early Career Training sessions. I was always captivated by the fruitfulness of these short sessions and how it helped me to shape my moving-forward career. This year, the first and second day of the conference will start with Early Career Training sessions. On Thursday, the Early Career Committee will share insights about succeeding at every stage of your career featuring talks on starting your own lab, work-life balance and transitions to the industry. The session on Friday morning is organized in cooperation with the ATVB Early Career Committee and will be focused on skills needed for difficult situations.

In my opinion, the points that will be discussed during talks in these sessions and their following Q & As will provide ample insights about how to modify your move toward future steps of your career.

Network, Network, Network!

The smaller setting of Vascular Discovery ‘18, compared to AHA Scientific Sessions or similar events, allows you to see more and to be seen more. You will have more exposure to your peers and experts in your field of interest during different segments of the event. Try to stay away, as much as possible, from peers and people from your own institution and find new connections.

Before heading to the event make sure that you ask yourself “why am I going?” Are you looking for a possible position? Is it a recommendation that you may want? Are you interested in starting collaborations? Come up with a goal and make sure you accomplish it instead of aimlessly wandering around.

Attendees use the networking opportunities during the breakfast and registration at ATVB 2017

Now that you have a networking goal, make sure to have an effective introduction when meeting someone new. Make eye contact, smile, and state your name and institution clearly then, listen (believe it or not, it is easy to miss these points when you are nervous).

Also, make sure you are not forgetting business cards and lean on “I just gave away my last one!” Moreover, have in mind that you will not remember the important details of every conversation, so be prepared to take notes. The whole purpose of networking is to connect with people in the near future and taking notes will make it easier.
 
Personally, I believe that networking is one of the priorities in attending any scientific sessions and being proactive and prepared for it will help you to make sure that you get the most out of it.

Poster Sessions – Land of Opportunities

If you are attending Vascular Discovery ‘18, you are probably aware that your research falls within the overall themes of the conference. Therefore, you find much more topics that you will be interested in, compared to more comprehensive meetings.

This point will specifically come to your realization during the poster sessions. Posters are one of the crucial currencies for communications and connections. Given the fact that how powerful posters are in making connections and receiving feedback, whether you are the presenter or the presentee, you should make sure to plan your attendance to the “land of opportunities.” Based on personal experience, visiting the posters from well-known research groups in your field of interest can help fostering strong working relationships. It would be helpful if you familiarize yourself with the names and even pictures of people who you may be interested to talk to, so you can approach them during the poster sessions.

In the case of you being the presenter, it is recommended that you prepare different versions of talking points, a short elevator pitch for less curious and a longer version for one’s with deeper interests. Finally, be open, enthusiastic and passionate during your presentations and do not be shy to ask people earlier in the day to stop by your poster.

Final Words

Vascular Discovery ‘18 will be filled with sessions discussing cutting-edge research from world-renowned scientists. Therefore, it would be worth it if you spend time on the final program and pick out the sessions/talks which you would be interested in. In case you will not be able to attend this meeting or some of the sessions, make sure to follow my special coverage of the event on my twitter (@MoradiShayan).

At the end of the day, also note that a full day of scientific quests may get overwhelming, so plan to have fun after the conference and enjoy the beauties of San Francisco.

Shayan Mohammad Moradi Headshot

Shayan is a caffeine-dependent Ph.D. Candidate at the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center, University of Kentucky. His research area is focused on vascular biology and lipid metabolism. He tweets @MoradiShayan, blogs at shayanmoradi.com and he is the Winner of World’s Best Husband Award (Category: nagging).

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Weight Loss And Exercise: A Remedy For A Better Functioning HDL

We all know that weight loss and exercise are essential for a better health. A healthy life style reduces cardiovascular risk, obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes. In a previous post, I briefly touched upon the idea that weight loss and exercise make HDL, or our “good cholesterol,” better at reducing cholesterol circulating the bloodstream. In the latest issue of the ATVB journal, in the translational section, a new study from Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia looked at this specific idea. They asked how does weight loss and exercise affect HDL in patients. So I thought it would be interesting to share the results from this study.

The study examined 95 patients with metabolic syndrome and compared them to healthy individuals. Metabolic syndrome patients have characteristics that include obesity, high blood glucose levels, hypertension and/or dyslipidemia. These patients tend to have dysfunctional HDL, and its level fail to predict the possibility of future cardiovascular events. In the study, patients were divided into 3 groups. The first group had to reduce their caloric intake by 600 calories a day. The second group also reduced their caloric intake by 600 calories and, in addition, had to exercise for 3-4 sessions of about 30 minutes each. The third group kept their usual dietary and exercise patterns. The patients were monitored for 12 weeks and tested at the beginning and at the end of the study. Both groups resulted in similar weight loss. However, the researchers found evidence that the group of patients that followed both healthier diets and an exercise regimen had the most change in HDL capacity to excrete cholesterol.

Upon looking at the details of the study, the researchers first observed that metabolic syndrome patients had smaller HDL particles with different composition, and lesser ability to get rid of cholesterol easily. With diet and exercise, the size of HDL particles in those patients got bigger and their ability to function in cholesterol efflux assay improved making these particles overall better in excreting blood cholesterol.

Despite the small sample size of the study, these results are promising in providing a better understanding of how life style changes can impact HDL function and overall reduce risk for CVD and Type 2 Diabetes. For me personally, this study make me wonder if exercise alone would effect HDL function, since it has become apparent that while exercise is important, exercise alone without appropriate dietary changes are not sufficient to lead to weight loss. Can exercise alone improve HDL composition and function? While this study does not provide an answer to my question, I am sure more studies will come out to address this question specifically. So until we know more, keep those healthy salads and spinning classes coming.

Dalia Gaddis Headshot

Dalia Gaddis is a postdoctoral fellow at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. She has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. She is currently working on understanding the interactions between the immune system and atherosclerosis development. 

 

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Can Increasing HDL Reduce Heart Disease? An Issue Of Constant Debate!

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to attend the HDL workshop that followed the ATVB council conference, which was held in San Francisco. The workshop’s main focus was to discuss and debate high-density lipoproteins (HDL), or what is commonly known as “the good cholesterol,” and how it influences heart disease.
 
You may ask, “HDL-cholesterol is good for your heart, so why dedicate two days to discuss what is already know?!” Here is where it gets interesting. While we look forward to lab results showing high HDL-cholesterol levels and low levels of LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) as an indication of reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, the actual answer to the benefits of HDL for cardiovascular disease is far from a simple yes or no. Yes, having high HDL-cholesterol indeed reduces the risk of heart disease, but this does not hold true for patients with metabolic conditions like diabetes, or chronic inflammation like chronic kidney disease.  In fact, multiple clinical studies that aimed at increasing levels of HDL-cholesterol have failed to reduce cardiovascular events. It is now becoming evident that just increasing the quantity of HDL-cholesterol alone is not sufficient to ensure cardiovascular free events.
 
Scientists are discovering that there is more to HDL-cholesterol than its concentration. The size of these HDL molecules, their composition, and their ability to remove lipids from the blood stream for excretion are more indicative of HDL protective function.  In addition, scientists are also finding that HDL has other compelling properties that can lower cardiovascular risk indirectly. HDL can reduce inflammation, protects from cell death and promotes wound healing. HDL also had antithrombotic effects (prevents blood clots formation), all of which would decrease the possibility of a cardiovascular incident.
 
So why not measure for the functionality of HDL rather than its mere concentration to determine one’s risk for cardiovascular disease? This was a topic for discussion at the HDL workshop. The methods used to measure HDL functionality are far from being standardized for use in clinical settings. More work is needed to find techniques that can be used routinely and reliably across clinical laboratories.
 
It is worth to note that the increase in HDL-cholesterol levels that are triggered by life style changes: healthy diets and physical exercise, does in fact correlate with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers think life style change does not only increase HDL-cholesterol but also has an effect on its function and on other metabolic parameters. So until science figures a more clinically feasible way to measure HDL functionality, it would still be a good practice to continue whatever healthy diet and exercise regimen you are on and to aim to keep those HDL-cholesterol numbers high and those LDL-cholesterol numbers low.

Dalia Gaddis Headshot

Dalia Gaddis is a postdoctoral fellow at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. She has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. She is currently working on understanding the interactions between the immune system and atherosclerosis development. 

 

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Entering The Scientific World- As A Woman

As I was entering into the Anaheim downtown area, I was just mesmerized by people walking with red tags around their necks bringing a smile onto my face, giving me a sense that they all belong to the same community as me, the scientific community. There are so many emotions running inside me, contemplating how I am going to make most of out of my next 3 days, rejuvenating to see such young talent around me and inspired to meet renowned researchers in the field of cardiology whose work I have been reading for many years. Scientific meetings are the best platform to foster new ideas, raise awareness and make your acquaintances beyond your geographical scope and there is no better way than AHA meeting. By bringing together basic researchers, scientists, and clinicians, AHA is providing the biggest platform to take the research from bench to bedside.

While everyone was talking research, one thing I was captivated was the acknowledgment that women were granted in this place. When women are constantly fighting about equal rights in workplace and equal wages as men, AHA is recognizing women with various achievement awards and named lectures. My highlight of yesterday was the American Heart Association Woman of Distinction Award for outstanding dedication to heart failure awareness which was presented to Queen Latifah during the opening ceremony. Singer, songwriter Queen Latifah inspired by her mother Rita Owens has contributed significantly in ‘Rise above heart failure’ movement and thus educating the community regarding symptoms and treatments of the condition and providing awareness to lead a healthier lifestyle. I personally being a fan of Queen Latifah’s work was delighted to see her getting honored at such a reputed conference. As a woman myself, one thing which made me swell with pride was that the presenter of the award was another renowned woman entrepreneur Nancy Brown, Chief Executive Officer of the AHA/ASA. AHA is breaking boundaries and constantly fighting against gender disparities between women and men by providing equal opportunities for women at places of work and in their levels of responsibility. In the field of medicine, AHA also recognizes outstanding academic and clinical performance in women cardiology fellows during cardiovascular-related specialty training by providing Women in cardiology excellence trainee awards for excellence. Other than the awards and honors, AHA also nurturing a council on Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (ATVB) Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) encouraging women’s involvement in science by providing visibility and engagement of women in ATVB activities, meetings and leadership within and outside the ATVB council. AHA scientific sessions is promoting such initiatives by hosting WLC luncheons which I am excited to attend this afternoon.

Despite women pursuing careers in science are all too aware they remain underrepresentation in the field of science due to persisting gender inequality often which severely limits them from reaching their goals. AHA sessions provide great hopes to resolve this global concern by recognizing the challenges that women face in science, encouraging leadership programs and providing a platform that advances women’s scientific careers at all stages. I am proud of being part of such community and looking forward to exploring more aspects of AHA during my stay in Anaheim.  

Keerat Kaur Headshot

Keerat Kaur is a postdoctoral fellow at Icahn school of Medicine at Mount Sinai in department of cardiology, NY. Her research focuses on reprogramming non-cardiacmyocytes to cardiomyocytes using modified mRNA approach.