The Myocarditis Foundation is pleased to announce that Dr. Guobao Chen, PhD, is the 2016 Fellowship Grant Recipient for the 2107-2018 Academic Year. Dr. Chen was the second place finalist in last year’s Fellowship Grant applicants, but came in above all the others in the 2016 submissions.

Dr. Chen is from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his mentor is Dr. Daniela Cihakova MD, PhD. Dr. Cihakova was the very first MF Fellowship Grant recipient in 2006. Dr. Chen is now conducting myocarditis research in Dr. Cihakova’s Lab and his research submission is entitled: “The Role of PDGFRa+ Cardiac Fibroblast in Myocarditis.”

Dr. Chen’s layman’s summary of his research project is as follows:

Despite that most patients recover from acute myocarditis, an estimated 9-16% of myocarditis cases progress to dilated cardiomyopathy, which is one of the most common causes of non-congenital heart failure in young individuals. Effective treatments for chronic dilated cardiomyopathy patients are limited, leaving heart transplantation as the only option for end stage heart failure. Thus, to stop the disease progression from myocarditis to dilated cardiomyopathy is critical for patients to recover from myocarditis.

We have adapted an experimental auto-immune myocarditis mouse model, to investigate the mechanism behind the disease progression from myocarditis to dilated cardiomyopathy. We have found a specific group of heart cells that is receiving the signaling from a pathological factor IL-17A. After receiving the signal from IL-17A, these cells will produce a number of other pathological factors to exacerbate the disease progression from myocarditis to dilated cardiomyopathy. We have also detected the same group of heart cells in human myocarditis patients and they were found to be expressing the pathological factors that were found in our mouse model. Similarly, the same specific group was also found in ischemia patient biopsies and our myocardial infarction (Heart Attack) mouse model. Thus, our discovery provides an excellent opportunity to develop specific treatment to halt the disease progression from myocarditis to dilated cardiomyopathy. We have designed delicate therapeutic methods to specifically target the immune function of this group of cells without killing them, which will minimize the side effects of systemic immune suppression and preserve other functions of these cells that might be important for the recovery from myocarditis.

A short story about how Dr. Chen joined Dr. Cihakova’s Lab at Johns Hopkins:

As previously an immunologist, I was first attracted by the sophisticated immune interactions between different cell types in the heart that were previously published by members of Dr. Cihakova’s Lab. From there, I went on to read more about myocarditis and diseases involving heart inflammation. It was after that when I became more and more interested with this topic. Later, in a routine conversation with my mum, she told me that her doctor suspected that she might have had myocarditis before, as her left ventricle was abnormally large. All these things strengthened my decision to dedicate my research career on developing treatment for myocarditis and other heart diseases.

The Myocarditis Foundation extends their best wishes to Dr. Chen for much success in his myocarditis research.  It is our prayer that we will one day find a treatment or a cure for this devastating disease, that takes so many of our young and otherwise healthy children and young adults.

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