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American Heart Association to Support HaMM Lab Research in Innovation and Discovery Center

The AHA Institutional Enhancement Award (AIREA) is designed to support research into cardiovascular diseases and stroke at educational institutions.

The two-year, $154,000 grant, awarded by the American Heart Association (AHA) supports projects that give students a chance to conduct research relating to cardiovascular disease, particularly those that do not already have significant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“The grant primarily enhances students research experiences and training,” says Stephen Kolwicz, an assistant professor of health and exercise physiology who directs Ursinus’s HaMM (Heart and Muscle Metabolism) lab. “I’m extremely proud that this grant was student driven. The idea was generated by student interest in the widely popular ketogenic diet.”

The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet in which the goal is to reduce carbohydrate intake and replace it with fat. This is meant to put the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis with the intention of burning fat for energy.

The preliminary data for the grant was gathered during pilot projects conducted by Kolwicz and his students throughout the spring 2019 semester. One of the major focuses of the grant is to take an in depth look at how ketogenic diets affect the heart during obesity. They hope that the information they gather will be able to benefit the general public.

The HaMM Lab provides opportunities for students interested in pursuing research on metabolic adaptations that occur in both cardiac and skeletal muscle.

Kolwicz says the lab is an interdisciplinary place for students to utilize their knowledge from HEP staples like anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, biochemistry and physics. He also puts an emphasis on good oral and written communication skills as well as ethics, which are emphasized as the lab uses animal models in their research.

“The type of experiments that the students perform are likely beyond the scope of what outsiders might expect from a lab studying cardiac metabolism at a small, liberal arts college,” Kolwicz shared, adding that since he came to Ursinus in 2017, he has noticed that trend from the other sciences. “I’m quite impressed with the level of science that the students are doing in other labs.”

The HaMM lab can be found in the Innovation and Discovery Center, which offers plenty of space for students to work and house the unique tools critical to their studies. “I have been able to expand my research techniques such as the isolated heart system and mitochondrial respiration. Students can easily perform studies to assess the whole body to organ to cell, which really reinforces their academic coursework.” –By Mary Lobo ’15