She noted that despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to cancellation of the annual award last year, many high-quality abstracts were submitted for review, from which four finalists were chosen.
At the May 11 virtual event, the finalists presented their work to a panel of judges, who later announced the two winners.
Cho's presentation focused on heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, which Cho said accounts for about half of diagnosed heart failure cases. More than 6 million U.S. adults have heart failure, which occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Death rates are high for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction—just 25% survival after five years. There are no treatments available that increase life expectancy for people diagnosed with this type of heart failure, Cho said.
Inflammation is thought to be behind disease progression, so Cho and fellow investigators treated laboratory rats with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction by using tiny particles called exosomes that were isolated from human cardiac progenitor cells, which regulate inflammation.
The results showed that these exosomes:
- Preserved diastolic function
- Improved exercise capacity
- Reduced development of abnormal electrical signals in the heart
- Reduced systemic inflammation
- Decreased ventricular fibrosis, a buildup of inflexible fiber-like tissue in the heart's ventricular chamber
Noting that exosomes are stable, durable and easy to store compared with cells, Cho called the results, if confirmed in humans, "very promising for next-generation therapeutics."
Reflecting on how his work and outlook have been affected by the tumult of the past year, Cho said: "I am a physician-scientist and have always believed in science. But when COVID-19 appeared and our society was shut down, it made me question the power of our science. One year later, however, our fellow scientists developed vaccines, and we have the ability to control these tiny viruses. I am excited when I dream of carrying out research that will change the world for my children."
Stern, a second-year cardiology fellow, presented her recent research on the impact of the 2018 revision of the United Network's donor heart allocation system. The allocation system is a protocol that determines who among many ill patients will first receive life-saving heart transplantation surgery.