Matters of the heart can be complicated but Andrew L. Lopez III, a second-year graduate student in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, is hoping to advance our understanding of them, at least in terms of heart development.
“I am studying heart development in mice before they are born so we can understand what is necessary during development to have a fully functional heart. More specifically, I want to learn how the heart uses its ability to contract to communicate with heart cells and facilitate heart development,” Lopez said.
In order to understand how contractile forces regulate development in the embryonic mouse heart, Lopez is using imaging methods such as Optical Coherence Tomography to look at live heart function. This is interesting to Lopez because not only does it allow him to see the heart beat but he also can measure blood flow and contraction velocity. He can then use measurements like these to specifically understand what forces are necessary for proper heart development.
Designing projects like this to tackle scientific questions is one of Lopez’s favorite aspects of being a scientist.
“When I think about trying to describe cell behavior in a growing heart, I realize that as a scientist we have to be very specific and rigorous about our studies so we can make definitive conclusions,” Lopez said. “Though the process of reviewing literature and obtaining data can be slow and sometimes frustrating, I think there is a real elegance to build off of previous discoveries and look for a definitive way to characterize a biological event. So for me, seeing how a project accomplishes this task is very powerful and fascinating.”
In the future, Lopez would like to run his own research laboratory at an academic institution. He enjoys the idea of managing a team and training students to accomplish making progress in mechanical biology. However, Lopez also would like to take his passion for science and become involved in scientific policy.
“I think there is a real need to educate the public and policy makers about science. I believe science is one of humanity’s most powerful tools for taking on a lot of our present challenges. I would like to see a world where we effectively use this tool rather than dismiss it,” he said.
Lopez strongly believes that if everyone makes a small contribution to society, then big changes in a positive direction can be made, and he is happy to be doing his part through science research.
“I view science as a civil service that aims to solve pressing problems and inform the general public on the facts. I have always found biology fascinating and chose to pursue biomedical research as a way of supporting the health professions field understand and prevent disease.”