UC Davis School of Medicine student receives Fulbright Award

Annahita Sarcon © UC Regents
UC Davis School of Medicine graduate and Fulbright scholar Annahita Sarcon begins  work in Spain in the fall on stem cell therapies for heart disease.

Posted June 8, 2011

Annahita K. Sarcon, a fourth-year medical student at UC Davis with extensive experience in biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics research, received a prestigious Fulbright Award to conduct cardiac stem cell research in Pamplona, Spain. The award supports full-time graduate investigations for nine months, beginning Sept. 15, 2011.

“I hope my stem cell and tissue engineering studies will result in the development of new approaches to treatments for patients after heart attack,” said Sarcon. “Cardiovascular disease is responsible for more than 17 million deaths annually worldwide. Standard treatment for survivors focuses on relieving symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain. If we could regenerate damaged heart muscle to strengthen heart function, we could improve the quality of life for many patients.”

Dr. James Nuovo © UC Regents“Her work in Spain will advance our knowledge of stem cell therapy and the development of new treatments for patients.”
— James Nuovo

In Pamplona, Sarcon will work at the Centro de Investigacion Medica Aplicada (CIMA), an internationally renowned institute that focuses on conducting interdisciplinary and collaborative research to discover new therapies for human diseases. Her mentor, Felipe Prósper Cardoso, is a physician-scientist and director of Stem Cell Therapy at the Clínica Universitaria at the University of Navarra, one of the highest-ranked private universities in Spain. Prósper Cardoso has advanced understanding of stem cell therapy in the treatment of heart disease and is conducting several pre-clinical and phase II stem cell clinical trials in Europe to evaluate safety and effectiveness of new therapies.

About UC Davis School of Medicine

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs.

The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care.

Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at medschool.ucdavis.edu.

UC Davis School of Medicine logo © UC Regents

At CIMA, Sarcon will explore the use of adipose-derived stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells as candidates for cellular therapy to promote heart muscle regeneration in a mouse model of ischemic heart disease. (Ischemia occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is decreased by a partial or complete blockage to an artery that carries blood to the heart.) To minimize the risk of immune rejection, she will investigate biodegradable collagen-based materials to construct a cellular scaffold to support regenerating tissue. In addition, she will measure heart muscle wall stiffness to determine the capacity of damaged tissue to repair and remodel itself. She also will assess the effectiveness of combined human growth factor and stem cell therapies to regenerate heart muscle.

“Ms. Sarcon is an exceptional student who has excelled in all areas of our medical school curriculum,” said James Nuovo, associate dean, Student Affairs and Graduate Medical Education. “She is clearly set on a path for leadership and scholarly activity within the field of medicine. Her work in Spain will advance our knowledge of stem cell therapy and the development of new treatments for patients.”

“UC Davis School of Medicine has provided outstanding support for my research endeavors. It is an honor to serve as an ambassador of the United States in Spain. I wish to express my gratitude to my mentors for their continuous support and guidance,” said Sarcon.

Sarcon holds a master’s degree in molecular biology and biochemistry and a master’s degree in physiology and biophysics, both from Georgetown University School of Medicine. She completed her undergraduate studies at UCLA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology in 2001. She also has completed research fellowships at the National Institutes of Health, where she investigated hematopoietic stem cells.