Make The Connection

Healing Hearts

July 3, 2019 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan senior Landry Cowles is working this summer at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where she is assisting with laboratory research into a type of congenital heart disease. Cowles earned an OWU Connection grant from the university to support her experience. (Photo by Brianna Tranby)

Ohio Wesleyan Student Works to Help Infants Through Mayo Clinic Research Program

Ohio Wesleyan University senior Landry Cowles is working this summer to help Mayo Clinic researchers better understand how to care for babies born without fully developed hearts.

Cowles, a pre-medicine and neuroscience double major from Louisville, Ohio, is spending 12 weeks in Rochester, Minnesota, working in the laboratory of Timothy Nelson, M.D., Ph.D. Nelson specializes in hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), a congenital heart disease that results in babies being born with a drastically underdeveloped heart.

“I am a summer student working with the HLHS stem cell research team to characterize human-induced pluripotent stem cells differentiated to cardiomyocytes,” says Cowles, a certified EMT who plans to go to medical school after graduating from OWU. “The goal of this project is to determine which cells are best able to be used in regenerative therapies.”

In other words, Cowles is working to help Nelson and his team understand which stem cells created from umbilical cord blood – the lab does not use embryonic stem cells – may help to restore a baby’s damaged or missing heart muscle.

“This experience will help me gain practical understanding of my course curriculum by means of research that is projected to impact people throughout the world,” says Cowles, who notes she chose Ohio Wesleyan because of its established neuroscience program. “Ultimately, this experience will help me become a stronger applicant for medical school.”

Cowles’ 12-week Mayo Clinic experience is part of the medical center’s Undergraduate Research Employment Program (UREP), an hourly paid research employee program for currently enrolled college students.

To help with her Minnesota living expenses, Cowles applied for and was awarded an Ohio Wesleyan-funded Theory-to-Practice Grant, part of The OWU Connection. The university program helps students to connect their classroom learning with real-world experiences, including research and internship opportunities around the world.

Cowles says her OWU experiences have included researching stem cells and their potential with professor Suren Ambegaokar, Ph.D., who studies neurodegenerative disorders, infectious diseases of the nervous system, and the intersection of the two. As part of the university’s annual Summer Science Research Program, Cowles spent 10 weeks working in Ambegaokar’s laboratory last year differentiating pluripotent cells into neuron-like cells.

Her Mayo Clinic UREP also was facilitated with assistance from 1955 OWU graduate E. Rolland Dickson, M.D., an emeritus professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

Watch Nelson discuss his HLHS research through the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine or learn more about The OWU Connection and its opportunities for Ohio Wesleyan students at www.owu.edu/owuconnection.