Published: April 26, 2021 By

Cierra Walker, a PhD candidate in the both the Materials Science and Engineering Program and Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology Program at CU Boulder is the first author on a new paper in Nature that explores what happens to cells after a heart attack.

Titled “Nuclear Mechanosensing Drives Chromatin Remodelling in Persistently Activated Fibroblasts” and appearing in Nature Biomedical Engineering, Walker said the paper will help doctors and researchers better understand and treat damage after cardiac fibrosis develops.

“After a heart attack, your heart cells gets stiffer. This is known as cardiac fibrosis and it reduces the heart’s ability to function properly,” she said. “Fibrosis impacts the cell operation within your heart, causing the cells to further promote fibrosis progression or ‘activation.’ So a major goal for doctors and researchers is to reverse the cell's activation and help the cells return to normal.”

Walker added that – in the paper – the team was able to show that the cells in question are “stuck” in an activated state through changes in their DNA accessibility (epigenetics). “We identified that we could reverse these activated cells to normal cells by treating them with particular small molecules,” she said.

Walker is part of the Anseth Lab in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Leinwand Lab in the BioFrontiers Institute and Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. She said she has always been interested in heart biology and research, making this a fun project to work on.

“Heart disease is the number one cause of death in developed countries, so it is amazing to me that there are still no treatments for cardiac fibrosis. I think this type of research is incredibly important for improving treatment options for people with heart disease,” said.