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New Research Center to Spur Aging and Cardiovascular Discoveries for Future Therapies

A dynamic new research center is designed to put Temple University at the forefront of cardiovascular advances and aging breakthroughs.

News February 23, 2024

Two doctors conduct research. One looks into a microscope while the other observes.

The Aging + Cardiovascular Discovery Center, launched this month at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, combines two renowned research centers into one scientific powerhouse.

Its goal is to identify new genes and processes driving aging-associated diseases – from heart attack to kidney failure, lung disease to Alzheimer's – and help translate these findings into new treatments. 

Directed by a top faculty member and scientist, John W. Elrod, PhD, FISHR, the center unites two former entities and frequent collaborators: the Cardiovascular Research Center (headed by Dr. Elrod) and the Center for Translational Medicine. Both hubs have made groundbreaking discoveries that advanced basic science, leading to potential therapies for multiple diseases.

"The merger of these two strong, independent centers is a chance to really build a world-class research group," said Dr. Elrod. "We're looking to break into some new areas and expand the breadth of our research."

The new center, abbreviated ACDC, is poised to make high-impact discoveries while nurturing young scientists.

"Temple has a long history of pioneering cardiovascular research. The ACDC will enable us to reach new levels of scientific achievement for years to come," noted Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, Marjorie Joy Katz Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

Bigger and Better

While the ACDC already has an accomplished faculty of 17 principal investigators and their respective labs, plus six research faculty, it plans to add more top-notch talent. 

Dr. Elrod meets with another researcher working in the lab"I'm excited to recruit new scientists to the center who will open up new avenues of research and bring cutting-edge technologies," said Dr. Elrod, a professor of cardiovascular sciences and associate professor with the Alzheimer's Center at Temple.

The new combined structure will also offer the following: 

  • New training opportunities, including prestigious named fellowships for graduate students (MD, PhD, and MD/PhD candidates) and post-doctoral researchers.
  • Enhanced research experiences and mentoring for Temple University undergraduates and medical students.
  • Stronger, combined grant applications to secure new research funding. This includes opportunities for larger, multi-lab awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Such Program Project Grants already fund some ACDC facilities.
  • Shared core facilities and more leading-edge technologies. For example, a new genomics single-cell sequencing core will enable ACDC researchers to analyze genes from individual cells, uncovering far more information than older techniques.
  • More collaborations with clinical departments to create research projects that address today's most pressing medical questions. This will help direct ACDC's basic science expertise toward translational research goals.

Dr. Elrod also aims to increase interactions with other top Philadelphia medical schools. His lab has historically had joint funding with the University of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson University investigators.

Moreover, the center will use a comprehensive approach to expand its potential discoveries.

"We want to look at everything that changes in a particular disease rather than just one pathway or one target," he explained. "We examine the entirety of the data and try to unbiasedly define what's important." 

That strategy will help the ACDC define new functions for genes and how they contribute to the development of diseases.

"Our hope is to discover new targets for the treatment of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions," Dr. Elrod said.

Leadership Excellence

Henry Cohen, a 5th-year MD/PhD student who has worked in Dr. Elrod's lab since 2021, is excited to be part of the ACDC.

"Dr. Elrod will make this into a great place to train and bring a lot of talent from the region, the country, and the world," said Cohen. "It's a really interesting combination with the aging component, and it will really help researchers and trainees in the future." 

Dr. Elrod is both an acclaimed scientist and mentor. He received Temple University's coveted Faculty Research Award for his outstanding scientific accomplishments and the medical school's Excellence in Education Award for his exceptional research mentoring of young scientists.Two researchers working in the new Aging + Cardiovascular Discovery Center

Dr. Elrod, an author of more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, was honored last year as a Fellow of the International Society of Heart Research. He holds leadership positions with the ISHR and the American Heart Association (AHA).

"In just ten years at Temple, Dr. Elrod's research has been cited nearly 15,000 times," said Dr. Goldberg. "His groundbreaking work has real-world implications for cardiac injury, heart failure, and neurodegeneration." 

Additionally, 100% of Dr. Elrod's former trainees have transitioned to desirable positions, and nearly all have secured competitive doctoral and post-doctoral grants. Two post-docs obtained exceedingly selective NIH K99 funding and recently landed assistant professor positions at prestigious institutions. Another received a similar grant from the AHA.

"Dr. Elrod measures his success by the success of his trainees and faculty. That really speaks to who he is as a leader and a person," said Cohen, who earned a highly competitive fellowship from NIH's National Institute on Aging under Dr. Elrod's tutelage.

Foundation of Achievements

The ACDC will build upon the exceptional successes of its inaugural team, Dr. Goldberg said.

For example, Dr. Elrod's multi-disciplinary lab published a landmark study in the renowned journal Nature – a first for a Temple lab in 30-plus years. That research made groundbreaking discoveries about heart cells' activities and their role in heart failure – revealing potential targets for new medications.

Other breakthroughs include a new hypothesis on the development of Alzheimer's disease, now being studied for developing novel therapies. Dr. Elrod's lab has also uncovered new potential targets to reverse fibrosis, the disease process responsible for the scarring and stiffening of organs, such as the heart.

Such studies have been published in many influential journals, including Circulation, Nature Communications, Cell Reports, Journal of Clinical Investigation, and Molecular Cell.

Another key ACDC member is Raj Kishore, PhD, chair of the medical school's Department of Cardiovascular Sciences. Dr. Kishore's lab focuses on cardiovascular disease mechanisms, potential treatment targets and stem-cell therapies. Among his many discoveries, he has identified a type of RNA molecule in the body that helps repair the heart after a heart attack.

"Chronic diseases place a huge burden on people and our society as a whole," he noted. "The only way to address this is with discoveries, treatments and prevention. The ACDC is well positioned to make these life-changing breakthroughs."