Litsa Kranias, PhD, is working to better understand the complex network of proteins contributing to heart function. As a professor of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, Director of Cardiovascular Biology and Co-Director of the Cardiovascular Center of Excellence, Kranias has dedicated her career to researching cardiac illness and mentoring the next generation of researchers.
Much of Kranias’ research has focused on phospholamban (PLN), a cardiac protein that helps regulate contraction of the heart. However, Kranias and her colleagues discovered that PLN does not act alone—a complex set of proteins, including HAX-1, the heat shock protein 20 (HSP20) and protein phosphatase 1, work together to regulate PLN activity and cardiac contractility. They also discovered that PLN mutations can cause dire cardiac issues, such as heart failure and arrhythmia. But according to Kranias, the issues related to PLN mutations are not well-understood.
“We don't want to just treat the symptoms of heart failure, we need to understand the physiology and pathophysiology of the heart and everything surrounding it, especially the role of PLN,” said Kranias. “If you understand the root of the disease, you can develop better therapies or prevent it.”
Kranias was recently awarded a grant to continue researching PLN in heart failure and arrhythmias. The grant will fund a consortium of US and European scientists to examine DNA sequencing to better understand how PLN and other proteins like HAX-1 work together. The studies will include human engineered cardiac tissues and animal models to enable the team to design novel therapeutic strategies.
While the research hasn’t reached the clinical application stage yet, Kranias says it’s critical to understand how the proteins interact to develop the best, most precise therapies possible, and this grant will help. In addition, a major part of the grant is dedicated to developing young scientists.
Kranias embraces her role as teacher and mentor, not only in her lab and her classroom, but in other opportunities as well. She’s the senior advisor of the Early Career Investigators of the American Heart Association Basic Cardiovascular Sciences and the senior faculty advisor of the Early Career Investigators of the International Society of Heart Research North America and of the World Congress. Her role as a mentor is so important that Kranias is a co-principal investigator of a training grant through the NIH. Kranias’ dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed—two years ago, she was awarded the University of Cincinnati Mentorship award.
“I think that a very important aspect of our career is training the next generation of scientists,” said Kranias. “This is probably the biggest legacy we leave behind. The research is important—it will move the field forward—but having scientists to continue that is even more important.”
Kranias’ impact as a researcher and a mentor is international. She established a laboratory in Athens, Greece where they discovered PLN mutations. Now, she’s a corresponding member of the National Academy of Athens and the only female member in Sciences. It is just one example of Kranias’ impact on the research community both at the University of Cincinnati and in the global research community.