While growing up, Jeannette Hallab always loved science. “From a young age, I have always loved science-y things, although back then, I didn’t recognise it as a love of science. I loved watching “Beyond 2000” (back when that was a thing), growing plants, and catching sea creatures in rock pools at the beach. As I grew up, this matured into a clear interest in science.” Fast forward to 2014 and Jeannette dived head first into a new undertaking at ARMI, in the role of Laboratory Manager and Research Assistant, where Jeannette played an integral role setting up the Ramialison Group’s laboratory. Jeannette can now add ‘award winner’ at the 2018 Weinstein Cardiovascular Development and Regeneration Conference to her list of achievements.
Attending the Weinstein conference in Nara, Japan has been a career highlight for Jeannette, commenting that she “felt quite honoured to have won an award”. She explained that this conference brings together the best cardiovascular developmental biologists from across the globe to share ground-breaking, unpublished data. “The atmosphere at the conference was great – I had the privilege of hearing research leaders including Professor Shinya Yamanaka, one of two Nobel Prize winners in Physiology and Medicine (2012) speak about cutting-edge applications of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell (iPSC)-derived cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) and their future therapeutic potential.”
Jeannette presented her research on the role of the gene elk1 in heart formation, congenital heart disease and adult heart disease, earning her a travel award for the quality of her poster. Her poster, titled “Elk1 in Congenital and Late Onset Cardiac disease: at the heart of the matter” and was ranked among the top 12% of those presented at the conference. Jeannette’s work indicates that the elk1 gene is important in embryonic heart formation in zebrafish and that when it is absent, embryonic heart formation is disrupted and congenital heart defects occur. Her data also suggests that elk1 is important in the maintenance of the size of adult heart muscle cells and in preventing them from becoming too large. Increases in the size of heart muscle cells result in a condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (the most common form of cardiomyopathy in adults, affecting 1 in 500 individuals). Jeannette explains, “Congenital heart diseases affect 1 in 100 live-born babies and are collectively the most common serious birth defects in humans. In a staggering 80% of congenital heart disease cases, existing diagnostics are still unable to determine the cause due to massive gaps in our understanding of the fundamental genetic basis of embryonic heart development. A better understanding of the genetic basis of cardiovascular development (the formation of the heart, valves and attached blood vessels during embryonic development) is crucial for improved diagnoses, treatments and genetic counselling for congenital heart disease patients, their families and for minimising the burden of these diseases on future generations.”
So, what’s next for Jeannette? “We are on the home stretch in the elk1 study and look forward to its publication soon. Our scientific/clinical collaborations with Lebanon are also close to commencement and we anticipate some new, exciting translational discoveries in the not so distant future” says Jeannette. You can read more about the role that Jeannette plays in clinical collaborations with congenital heart disease physicians in Lebanon here.
Jeannette Hallab is a member of the Ramialison Group, led by Dr Mirana Ramialison. The Group’s research focuses on the genetic basis of cardiovascular development and congenital heart diseases. Click here to learn more about the Ramialison Group.