January 23, 2017

Spotlight on Todd Herron, Ph.D.

Assistant Research Professor, Center for Arrhythmia Research, Frankel Cardiovascular Center

January 23, 2017

Prechter Program Todd Herron

Dr. Herron’s project is titled “Cardiovascular disease in bipolar disorder patients: Patient specific disease modeling and medication testing” and its goal is to study cardiovascular cells and neurons derived from the same bipolar patient.

Bipolar patients experience elevated cardiovascular mortality rate, yet the connection between this psychiatric disorder and cardiovascular health is unclear. New experimental and clinical evidence suggests that genetic abnormalities of the calcium channel gene may contribute to neuronal dysfunction observed in patients with bipolar disorder. Interestingly, the same calcium channel gene is also expressed in the heart of bipolar patients. This suggests a common genetic link between bipolar patient neuronal function and cardiovascular health.

The calcium channel gene is crucial for proper cardiac function and genetic abnormalities can lead to cardiovascular disease. Expression of a mutated calcium channel gene in the hearts of bipolar patients may also have consequences on the safety and effectiveness of psychoactive medications, which could include harmful side effects such as cardiac arrhythmias. An in vitro source of bipolar patientspecific neurons and cardiovascular cells is required to better understand the molecular basis of bipolar disorder and to personalize medication selection and prescription.

In this project, Dr. Herron is studying calcium channel gene expression and function in neurons and cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) derived from the same bipolar patient. Investigators in Dr. Herron’s laboratory are generating bipolar patient cardiomyocytes and investigators in Dr. Sue O’Shea’s laboratory are generating bipolar patient neurons for in vitro studies.

This collaborative project offers an unprecedented opportunity to study patient-specific neuronal and cardiac function. Furthermore, the investigators will test a panel of anti-psychotic medications in these in vitro neurons and cardiomyocytes to create an in vitro diagnostic tool that will provide a mechanistic and personalized basis for drug therapy decisions.