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Gea-Ny Tseng, Ph.D.

Photo of Gea-Ny Tseng, Ph.D.Gea-Ny Tseng, Ph.D.
Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
Molecular Basis for Kv Channel Heterogeneity in the Heart

Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Heart Failure and Arrhythmia Branch
FY 2009 Recovery Act Funding: $470,828

Additional Funding:
Molecular Basis for Kv Channel Heterogeneity in the Heart
Administered by the NHLBI Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, Heart Failure and Arrhythmia Branch
FY 2010 Recovery Act Funding: $437,573
More information about the grant
Total funding: $908,401

Investigative Focus: Gea-Ny Tseng, Ph.D., heads a multidisciplinary study of heart muscle cells to determine the causes of abnormal heart rhythms known as arrhythmias. "We are extremely enthusiastic about our project," Dr. Tseng said. "We believe our results will provide new insights into the control of cardiac electrical activity and, importantly, may identify new treatments for chronic atrial fibrillation and other life-threatening arrhythmias. The progress has been excellent, given the positive morale in the lab."

Economic Impact: "The Recovery Act grant has revived research projects in my lab," said Dr. Tseng. "It allows me to continue my career as a scientific investigator and as an educator. The economy, and thus the challenging funding situation, has wiped out some established labs in my field, and has put tremendous pressure on scientists."

Dr. Tseng is using the Recovery Act funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to create a part-time job for Gerard Heck, PhD., a research assistant professor in her department. "Dr. Heck has been working in the department for almost 30 years, but due to challenging economic conditions, the research project he had been working on is ending, and he faces a situation of forced early retirement," she said. "I am now providing partial support for Dr. Heck, taking advantage of his vast knowledge in electronic design and asking him to build a photon detection device for a microscope in my lab. We will use this system to measure fluorescence from proteins of interest in live cells as part of [this project]."

With Recovery Act support, Dr. Tseng also plans to accept doctoral students for lab rotations and provide more opportunities for summer student researchers. "We think these are ways my lab can help the country build the foundation for long-term economic growth," said Dr. Tseng. "Young, well-trained scientists can better compete in this global economy and help sustain the leadership position of the United States in biomedical research."

Dr. Tseng added, "I think the best thing my lab has learned in this difficult time is that we can get more done with less if we plan our experiments carefully and economize every step we take. However, the side effect is that some really good and novel ideas that potentially can give us good return have been shelved because we cannot afford the risk of failure. Furthermore, this situation is particularly hard for young investigators and deters young, bright students from entering the research field."

A Typical Day: "I arrive at my office usually before 8 a.m., reading and replying to e-mails and planning the activity of the day. If we are not doing voltage-clamp experiments, which have a timing issue (we need to study the cells before they deteriorate), we usually end the day at around 5:30 or 6 p.m. I may have a quiet dinner and continue to work in my office (reading manuscripts, writing my own) until around 11 p.m." (Voltage-clamp experiments are designed to identify the electrical currents in individual heart cells that result in an electrocardiogram or ECG of the entire heart.)

The research combines electrophysiology with molecular and cell biology. "I try to participate in voltage-clamp experiments as much as possible," said Dr. Tseng, "because the best moment to get new ideas about research projects is when I see [electrical] current traces showing up on my computer monitor during the recording session. The excitement and adrenaline rush is the most effective catalyst for new ideas."

Pivotal Moments: "I always liked the idea of creating something new and seeing it to completion, but I was not sure whether I should become a scientist or an artist," said Dr. Tseng, adding that her parents decided that becoming a scientist would be better, because of the better job outlook. After earning her doctoral degree, she accepted a postdoctoral position in Dr. Brian F. Hoffman's lab at Columbia University in New York. "I was given the freedom and respect to design my own experiments. He trusted me enough to sponsor me to [travel to] Okazaki, Japan, to learn state-of-the-art experimental techniques. By the end of the two-month training, I had obtained enough data to write a research paper. I was able to create something new and see to its completion by doing science, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. That was my pivotal moment!"

'The Accumulation of Small Achievements': "I do not think much about scientific 'breakthroughs.' I spend a lot of time thinking about important and novel questions in my research area and trying to design and execute solid experiments to address those questions. I think meaningful progress in science can be obtained by the accumulation of small achievements, piece by piece. However, if I had all the resources I need, I would love to use crystallography or cryo-electron microscopy to deduce the structures of macromolecular complexes. I think these are the areas where breakthrough discoveries are likely to occur."

By Sheila Walsh

Last Updated:August 10, 2010

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