By Wendy Sarubbi | September 18, 2014 4:40 pm

College of Medicine Professor Dinender Singla, Ph.D. has been elected as a fellow of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, an organization committed to the worldwide sharing of research and educational information to combat heart disease.

The academy selects no more than 250 fellows at any given time “who have shown great commitment in promoting cardiovascular activities in the fields of science, medicine and surgery,” said Dr. Grant Pierce, president of the academy’s North American Section, who notified Dr. Singla of the honor. In addition to the fellowship, Dr. Pierce asked Dr. Singla to serve as secretary of the North American group.

“I am very, very excited to be selected as a fellow,” Dr. Singla said. “This will broaden my horizons as a cardiovascular researcher and open up increased opportunities for collaboration. Dr. Singla added that the fellowship will also help him expose basic and clinical scientists, graduate students and post-docs to the academy for networking and collaborative research opportunities at the national and international level.

Dr. Singla’s research focuses on using tiny transplanted stem cells to “mend the broken heart.” Heart attacks happen when blood vessels in the heart become blocked, leading to the death of heart cells and a hardening of the heart muscle. Dr. Singla’s research team is looking at ways to replace dead heart cells with stem cells. In mice models, stem cells improved heart function by creating new blood and heart cells, increasing the heart’s pumping ability and improving overall cardiac health. Stem cells, Dr. Singla said, have the potential to improve the quality of life for people with heart disease and ultimately to save lives.

Last June, Dr. Singla, who teaches at the medical school’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, received his third highly competitive RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for his cardiac research. The grant, worth up to $1.7 million over the next four or five years, will fund research on injecting stem cells into hearts that have been affected by cell death, oxidative stress and inflammation. It will also fund his research on growth factors that stem cells release that can reduce fibrosis and inflammation of the heart. One of these factors, bone morpho-genetic protein 7 (BMP7), polarizes monocytes – white blood cells that attack bacteria and viruses and cause inflammation – and changes them into M2 Macrophages. The term macrophage means “big eaters,” in Greek, and these cells digest cellular debris and pathogens and reduce inflammation. The RO1 grant will help Dr. Singla investigate further the possible role of BMP7 in fighting heart disease.

Moreover, Dr. Singla is doing additional research on the connection between diabetes and inflammation, which makes heart disease a frequent complication of diabetes. Studies on mice models have shown that pre-diabetics – those with higher than normal blood glucose levels – have increased thickening and scarring of the heart muscle due to inflammation. Dr. Singla hopes that his research will show ways to reduce inflammation in diabetics before their condition causes heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease accounts for one in four deaths in the United States. Dr. Singla has devoted nearly 20 years of his scientific career to cardiology research, a labor of love because the disease hits close to home. “I was triggered to do my research because my mother suffered from diabetes and heart issues,” he said. “Because of that I want to work to solve these problems.”

The International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Established by renowned cardiovascular scientists, surgeons and cardiologists, the group believes that scientific answers to heart disease have moved too slowly from research labs to patient bedsides. As the group notes, “Although great strides have been made in improving the death rate from heart disease, heart attacks and related problems are still the number one killer.”

Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UCF College of Medicine, applauded Dr. Singla’s fellowship, calling it a “well deserved honor in recognition of Dr. Singla’s important work. Such research is the cornerstone of academic medicine.”

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