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Doctoral student receives American Heart Association fellowship award

A University of Toledo graduate student has been awarded a highly competitive predoctoral fellowship grant from the American Heart Association.

Hannah Saternos is in her third year of the Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics PhD Program in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The two-year, $53,866 grant, which began Jan. 1, will take her through the completion of her doctoral degree.

Saternos, left, and AbouAlaiwi

Dr. Wissam AbouAlaiwi, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, said Saternos is an exceptionally bright and dedicated student.

“To bring $54,000 at the predoctoral level is impressive,” AbouAlaiwi said. “Usually students come to the lab, perform their research project, and leave with a decent research experience. For Hannah, it’s more like a major career step. She is a student, she’s taking care of her research — but she’s also training other students, organizing the lab, ordering supplies, and writing grants. She has a very promising future in this field.”

Saternos’ grant application scored in the top 11th percentile, with one reviewer noting she is already “arguably equal to an early to mid-stage postdoctoral fellow in scientific and networking skills.”

The American Heart Association funds 100 to 130 predoctoral fellowships annually.

Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Saternos received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The University of Toledo. She joined AbouAlaiwi’s lab in 2014 and has since published eight research papers.

The primary focus of Saternos’ work is on cilia, hair-like antenna structures that extend from human cells, and the potential role they may play in blood pressure and polycystic kidney disease. She was the first to discover that cilia contain a certain family of receptors and is now investigating whether it might be possible to link and target the receptors as a treatment for those conditions.

AbouAlaiwi said other researchers already have clinically tested drugs that target those receptors elsewhere in the body for treating other disorders.

“If these drugs have proven to be beneficial for polycystic kidney disease or hypertension, you will save a lot of time during the clinical trial periods as you do not have to go through all the safety testing procedure again. Those steps have already been done,” he said. “I think that’s what drew the attention of the American Heart Association to fund this project because it’s a novel idea and it could have an impact on cardiovascular disease in the future.”

There is currently no effective cure or treatment for polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder that causes fluid-filled cysts to grow in the kidneys and elsewhere. Ultimately, it can lead to kidney failure.

AbouAlaiwi and Saternos each received grants from the American Heart Association in 2016 to support their work. Read the UT News story about those awards.

Saternos sees her fellowship award as validation that she’s on track for meeting her professional goal of being a research professor in cardiovascular therapeutics.

“I’m naturally curious, and I instantly fell in love with the research project and the lab. Every day I’m excited to be here,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have my own lab, and getting this award encourages me that dream is realistic. I want to find something I’m passionate about and continue to jump down these rabbit holes. I’m never going to work a day in my life. I genuinely love this.”