Medical student's research informs understanding of cellular communication during viral heart infections

Student Vu Phan in a laboratory setting

Heart infections caused by viruses can be serious, particularly for young adults and children.

“We believe myocarditis – inflammation of the heart tissue often caused by viruses – is responsible for about 42 percent of sudden death in people 35 and younger,” said James Smyth, assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in the Center for Heart and Regenerative Medicine Research. “It has become increasingly prevalent in children and infants and connected to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”

Currently, there is not much research on the mechanisms of viral myocarditis such as how viruses may target cardiac cell gap junctions, which allow cells to communicate. That was the starting point for the work of now fourth-year Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student Vu Phan when he joined Smyth’s lab three years ago.

“For Vu, I wanted to start the virus work in the lab and ask, what is the fate of these gap junction channels in the context of viral infection?” Smyth said.

Click here to read more about this story on Virginia Tech News.