Veterinary research conducted at
Sunshine Lahmers, a veterinary cardiology resident and graduate student in WSU Professor Henk Granzier’s laboratory, made the discovery with a team of WSU researchers. The work was published in the March 2004 issue of Circulation Research, a top medical journal.
The work has been a remarkable, sustained, collaboration, centered in WSU’s
Parts of the work were carried out in WSU Assistant Professor, Doug Call’s laboratory and in close collaboration with the
Using the enhanced capabilities of the GeneSifter data analysis system with customization from its developers at Seattle-based VizX Labs, the group was able to make great strides studying heart development in a short period of time. The work shows promise for a greater understanding of heart disease and heart muscle maturation.
Titin is the third most abundant muscle protein in the body, and there is nearly a pound of it in the heart and other muscles. There are also multiple forms of titin, formed by different sections of the titin gene. The gene codes for the production of proteins link together much like rail cars of a train. The group’s work shows that, in the first few months after birth, a large “fetal cardiac titin” is replaced by smaller and stiffer forms of titin.
According to Lahmers, the changes are necessary to accommodate the dramatic changes in a newborn’s body that occur during the transition from living in the womb to breathing air.
The WSU scientists performed complex laboratory experiments that generated massive amounts of data. The customized software application allowed a rapid and accurate interpretation of that data. The work evaluated a wide range of species, giving researchers a fuller picture of how titin behaves in the heart of young animals and children. What would have taken months in the past was reduced to hours. The research determined the underlying gene expression patterns and the statistical and biological significance of the data.
“The software and the technical expertise afforded us helped the routine number crunching go very quickly, giving me more time to focus on the biology behind those numbers,” Lahmers said.
“Typically, researchers want to know how much a gene is expressed compared to all other genes,” Lahmers said. “But we were specifically interested in how often one form of the titin gene was expressed compared to the most common form.”
“When we identify a unique type of research, we can add features and adjustments to the software to make that research easier,” said Christian Wade, VizX Labs staff scientist. “Perhaps more importantly, other researchers can now access these alterations aiding everyone’s work, since it’s all Web-based.”
“Dr. Lahmer’s research is interesting, because of the size and unique nature of the titin molecule,” said Eric Olson VizX Labs’ director of science. “The work is innovative, and it is important because of the clinical potential to save lives. It is gratifying that our product has contributed such solid science in this case and now in many others.”