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The work of Jared McLendon, a graduate student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently highlighted at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Philadelphia.
His abstract, titled “Targeted pulmonary delivery of a microRNA-145 inhibitor reverses severe pulmonary arterial hypertension in rats,” was also chosen to receive a travel award from the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA).
“For me, this is an exciting first step toward being accepted as a viable scientist by this research community and it helps to validate my decision to pursue a graduate education and doctoral degree,” he said.
McLendon’s research focuses on understanding pulmonary hypertension (PH), a rare blood vessel disorder of the lung in which the pressure in the pulmonary artery – the blood vessel that leads from the heart to the lungs – rises above normal levels and may become life threatening.
“Our research is aimed at understanding why the walls of pulmonary blood vessels change so dramatically and at designing new drugs to decrease pulmonary blood pressure and repair the pulmonary blood vessel wall structure,” he said.
McLendon’s research team has identified specific molecules that are partly responsible for these changes. “They are small pieces of genetic information called microRNA that work inside cells to regulate the expression of other genes,” he said. “We think that one in particular, microRNA-145, is responsible for making pulmonary blood vessels constrict and become thicker.”
According to McLendon, people with pulmonary hypertension become very sick and are unable to live a normal life. “Their hearts become unable to pump strong enough to overcome the high blood pressure in their lungs,” he said. “Our research helps to better understand how to reverse these harmful processes in people with PH, thereby allowing people to recover from their disease and prevent the relentless progression into heart failure.”
McLendon said he is proud to work with great collaborators and great mentors. He credits his mentor, USA biochemistry chair Dr. William Gerthoffer, for teaching him what it really means to be a scientist. “He pushes hard for students to become independent and demands excellence,” McLendon said. “He also stresses the value of collaboration within a broader research team.”
This collaboration has given McLendon the freedom to develop a network of mentors throughout the College of Medicine and within the Center for Lung Biology.
“They have each been invaluable resources for me to develop skills in research, scholarship, oral and written communication, teaching, and professionalism. I am confident my training under Dr. Gerthoffer and the Center for Lung Biology has equipped me to become a successful independent investigator in the future.”
Last year, McLendon said he had the opportunity to attend a PHA meeting that changed his outlook on research and his motivation to succeed. “I was both overwhelmed and encouraged by the hundreds and hundreds of pulmonary hypertension patients and their families,” he said.
“Having my research highlighted by the PHA makes this award an emotional one. I am honored and humbled beyond words and feel strongly encouraged to work even harder to find a way to combat this terrible disease.”
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