Public Release: 

UNC scientist receives global award for stem cell research

Dr. Li Qian's award-winning research explores cellular reprogramming in cardiac regeneration and disease modeling

University of North Carolina Health Care

CHAPEL HILL, NC - A University of North Carolina School of Medicine scientist has been awarded an inaugural global award from Science and Science Translational Medicine and Boyalife for her research in healing damaged heart muscle.

Li Qian, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and a member of the McAllister Heart Institute and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, is being recognized for her groundbreaking research. The foundation of this research was established in 2009, when she first showed it was possible to reprogram cardiac fibroblasts - the cells of scar tissue - to become functional cardiomyocytes - healthy muscle tissue that helps the heart to beat. During the past three years at UNC, she has made additional breakthroughs in improving this approach.

Qian is the first-ever recipient of the Boyalife, Science and Science Translational Medicine Award in Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, a global award for researchers younger than 45 years old.

"My team and I will continue to develop and utilize new reprogramming approaches to advance personalized medicine," Qian said. "I believe that our efforts and those from others will one day lead to tailored therapies designed for individual patients."

Joan Taylor, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and associate director of the McAllister Heart Institute, described Qian's research as "a vital first step to realizing future regenerative treatments as a new model of health care."

"Dr. Qian is performing exceptionally innovative research using stem cell approaches to restore cardiac function following a heart attack, with a particular emphasis on a new phenomenon termed cellular reprogramming," Taylor said. "In her short time at UNC, Dr. Qian has made remarkable progress in establishing her independent research program."

Qian started her own lab in 2012. Qian's accolades and honors include the prestigious Ellison New Scholarship from the Ellison Medical Foundation, Scientist Development Grant from the America Heart Association, and a research progress grant from the National Institutes of Health. She has published 13 peer-reviewed senior author manuscripts as principal investigator, seven of which were original research papers. In 2012, The American Heart Association ranked Qian's research No. 2 on the list of Top 10 advances in heart disease and stroke research.

Charles Jennette, MD, Kenneth M. Brinkhous Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said Qian's research was extremely important in researching and, ultimately, combatting heart disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the number one cause of death for all Americans - men and women - with an estimated 610,000 deaths annually. Heart disease is responsible for one in four deaths in the United States.

"Dr. Qian's research is dispelling the prior dogma that the heart cannot replace dead heart cells," Jennette said. "Dr. Qian is performing exceptionally innovative research using novel approaches to restore heart function following a heart attack or chronic heart failure. Her research shows that treatment approaches may be possible that will stimulate growth of new heart cells that can improve heart function impaired by a heart attack and other forms of heart disease."

"I feel very excited and also very honored to win the Boyalife, Science and Science Translational Medicine Award in stem cell and regenerative medicine," Qian said.

Qian will receive her award at the Boyalife and Science award ceremony in San Francisco, California, on June 23.


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