Popular Honors Thesis Projects: Cardiogenesis in Stem Cells

Ana Cristina Parra Rivera is a senior chemistry major whose thesis is titled, “Discovery and Development of Small Molecules that Induce Carcinogens in Stem Cells.” Specifically, her research focused on the synthesis of drug-like molecules that target stem cells in the adult heart.

She explains that these drug-like molecules are able to induce stem cells toward cardiogenesis, formation of the heart muscle. After an individual suffers from a heart attack, the heart begins the process of repairing itself by forming scar tissue. Treatment with these drug-like molecules will replace the formation of scar tissue with the production of new heart muscle.

In the summer of 2011, Rivera joined the laboratory of Dr. Frantz. This particular project was appealing to Rivera because she wanted to “work in a medicinal chemistry project that would make an advance in current therapies.”

As an international student, Rivera believes the most difficult aspect of her project was writing her thesis in English. “Being able to convey my ideas by writing in another language was challenging.”

Rivera believes much of her help came from her thesis advisor, Dr. Frantz, and his graduate student in charge of the project, Hector Aguilar. “They guided me throughout the whole process by explaining the chemistry and biology behind this research work.”

Other difficulties for Rivera arose from the need to continuously perform experiments in order to prove a hypothesis. “I synthesized about 100 molecules,” says Rivera.

Because heart conditions exist as a common problem among today’s society, Rivera believes she has made discoveries that will advance the investigation of small molecules and their influence in adult cardiac stem cells. She also believes that long-term benefits, such as identifying drug-like molecules that can lead to regenerative therapies, will arise from her research.