Heart-Focused Studies Earn Malaniak Awards

Lilian Grigorian, MD, PhD, (left) and Magali Noval Rivas, PhD, (right) deliver their winning presentations for the 2017 Bohdan (Danny) Malaniak Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research.

The body's most important muscle — the heart — was the focus of this year's winners of the Bohdan (Danny) Malaniak Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research. Lilian Grigorian, MD, PhD, won for her work on rejuvenating aging hearts, and Magali Noval Rivas, PhD, won for her Kawasaki disease study. Each Cedars-Sinai scientist received a $3,000 prize.

Grigorian and Noval Rivas were among five finalists who presented their studies Jan. 31 at a well-attended ceremony in Harvey Morse Auditorium. Now in its 10th year, the annual award, which aims to foster basic and translational research by promoting investigative curiosity, is named for Cedars-Sinai's former associate vice president for academic affairs, who died in 2013.

In welcoming attendees, Mariko Ishimori, MD, Cedars-Sinai site co-leader of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute and interim division director of the Cedars-Sinai Division of Rheumatology, said Malaniak "was a strong advocate for research at Cedars-Sinai, and we honor him today." Ishimori, an assistant professor of Medicine, chaired the 2017 Malaniak award committee.

An eight-member expert panel judged the five presentations based on scientific content, originality and clarity of oral presentation. The event culminated with Ishimori announcing the two award recipients.

Grigorian's winning entry demonstrated that injecting cardiosphere-derived cells into older laboratory rats can induce biological rejuvenation of aging hearts. These cells, which are heart-derived stem cells with antifibrotic and anti-inflammatory properties, were first isolated and characterized by Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, a professor of Medicine and director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. Grigorian is a postdoctoral scientist in Marbán's laboratory.

Alexander Ljubimov, PhD, director of the Eye Program at the Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute and an award judge, quizzes finalists on their research.

Grigorian's study showed that cardiosphere-derived cells from young animals can improve the ability of hearts in older animals to relax, countering a tendency toward cardiac stiffness with age. Other favorable effects included increased exercise capacity and better renal function. Grigorian, who earned her MD and PhD from the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Spain, was the first author on the study and Marbán was the corresponding author.

Noval Rivas' winning entry examined Kawasaki disease, the leading type of acquired heart disease in children, which typically inflames and injures blood vessels and can lead to life-threatening complications. Using a mouse model, Noval Rivas demonstrated a strong association between Kawasaki disease and the existence of a defective intestinal barrier, resulting in increased intestinal permeability.

Noval Rivas received her PhD from the Université Libre de Bruxelles Institute for Medical Immunology in Belgium. She is a postdoctoral scientist in the laboratory of Moshe Arditi, MD, a professor of Pediatrics and Biomedical Sciences and director of the Infectious and Immunological Diseases Research Center at Cedars-Sinai. Noval Rivas was the first author and Arditi was the corresponding author for the study.

The three other finalists were postdoctoral scientists Benjamin Bakondi, PhD, from the laboratory of Shaomei Wang, MD, PhD; Justyna Kanska, PhD, from the laboratory of W. Ruprecht Wiedemeyer, PhD; and Irene van den Broek, PhD, from the laboratory of Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD.