Congratulations to Melissa Luse, recipient of an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship

Melissa Luse was awarded an American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship in July 2022. Melissa is a fourth-year student in Brant Isakson’s lab in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics where she is pursuing her PhD training in the Physiology graduate program. Her research interests lie at the intersection of metabolism and vascular dynamics. Specifically, she is interested in how adipose microvascular endothelial cells communicate with surrounding adipocytes in the pathology of type 2 diabetes (T2D). She notes that there is vast heterogeneity among endothelial cells, a concept she came to appreciate during her undergraduate research in the Carleton lab at the University of Maryland. This experience provided her the opportunity to study the genetic heterogeneity of opsins within the retina of cichlid fish. She was fascinated by the concept of cell type differences within tissues and how these differences suited physiological function. During her first year at UVA, she had the opportunity to engage in three intellectually stimulating research rotations. However, her exciting hands-on experience in cardiovascular (CV) physiology piqued her interest because of its pertinence to clinical etiologies as well as the prevalence of CV disease in the United States. She joined the Isakson laboratory and became a part of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center. Broadly, the Isakson lab focuses on understanding heterocellular communication within the vasculature, between endothelial cells (ECs) and smooth muscle cells. Studying the communication between two different cell types is a fascinating topic for Melissa. During her rotation with Dr. Thurl Harris, she developed a complementary interest in adipose tissue and metabolism. She has applied the skills in metabolic- and adipose-related techniques that she learned there and is coupling these with her interest in the cardiovascular questions posed within the Isakson lab. Her unique experience became the foundation for her research project studying endothelial cell and adipocyte communication. When asked was motivates her scientific pursuits, Melissa referred to her lifelong interest in the impact of exercise. Her project is allowing her to explore the interplay between metabolism and energy utilization/consumption. She notes that metabolism is a fascinating and complex area of research that has been poorly defined for many years. She highlights that, with the advent of the obesity epidemic, it is especially important to understand the mechanisms of endothelial dysfunction and adiposity. Melissa has been so focused on her doctoral projects that she has not yet begun to settle on future plans. However, her long-term goal is to continue to advance the scientific understanding of metabolism.