Wang wins collaborative research award

By Roman Petrowski, Office of Communications

Dr. Jun Wang - Collaborative Research Award
Jun Wang, PhD

Jun Wang, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, is the winner of the 2021 John S. Dunn Collaborative Research Award, presented by the Gulf Coast Consortia.

Wang, and teammate Xiaolong Jiang, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, are one of three teams to receive a $100,000 prize for their seed grant project, “Decipher electrophysiological and transcriptomic signatures of the sinoatrial node in response to aging.”

“I am very happy that our study is funded by the Dunn Collaborative Research Award and looking forward to a productive collaboration with Dr. Xiaolong Jiang’s group at Baylor College of Medicine,” Wang said. “This novel study is led by my talented postdoc fellow Dr. Mingjie Zheng and will result in a large database of meticulously curated data to decipher the mystery of sinoatrial node, and answer some of the most challenging and fundamental questions regarding this natural cardiac pacemaker.”

Cardiac pacemaking is initiated from the sinoatrial node (SAN), a collection of pacemaker cells (PC) in the heart that can autonomously generate rhythmic and spontaneous heartbeat signals. Dysfunctional cardiac pacemakers cause cardiac arrhythmias and even sudden death, with its incident significantly increasing with aging.

Due to its complexity and technical limitations, the cardiac pacemaker is one of the most poorly understood cardiac entities. By complementing the strength and expertise of two collaborating labs, this study adapts and applies a novel technique to characterize the PCs of clinical model hearts and their aging-associated changes at the single-cell resolution.

Taking advantage of this new technique, the study will provide unprecedented insights into the cellular makeup of this important structure, and understanding of how it initiates cardiac pacemaking and responses to aging. The findings from this proposed study may spawn a number of follow-up studies, including large NIH projects by reverse/forward translating the findings from this collaboration.

“This novel study requires combined expertise from two labs working on different disciplines,” Wang said. “My lab is focused on the cardiovascular system and has extensive experience in studies of physiological, molecular and genetic regulation of cardiac development, diseases, and regeneration. The Jiang lab is focused on the central nervous system. Dr. Jiang is one of the original developers of Patch-seq, and his lab has extensive experience in applying Patch-seq to diverse brain tissues. As illustrated by our exciting preliminary data, the two labs have overcome the technical communication issues of coordinating across labs and institutions, which ensures successful completion of the proposed studies.”

The John S. Dunn Collaborative Research Award fosters new, exemplary, inter-disciplinary, and inter-institutional engagement in the quantitative biomedical sciences. Launched in 2008 with generous support from the John S. Dunn Foundation, this seed grant program continues to build the collaborative environment of the Gulf Coast Consortia and funds projects with high potential for impacting human health.

Wang received her PhD from the Texas A&M Health Science Center in 2010 before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Baylor College of Medicine in 2014. Her research focuses on delineating the molecular signals regulating craniofacial and cardiac development, diseases, and regeneration.