Suraj Kannan

The clinical motivation for our work in Chulan Kwon’s lab is the need for cardiac cells for regenerative therapies, particularly for patients who have suffered heart attacks and have damaged heart muscle, as well as for drug screening purposes. One highly promising approach under investigation is the use of cardiac cells derived from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), including patient- derived induced PSCs. However, PSC-derived cardiac cells have thus far been immature, resembling fetal instead of adult cardiac tissue. This, in turn, has significantly limited their clinical use. My project studied developmental processes underlying cardiac maturation, and identified a transcription factor regulatory network that controls this maturation process. We are hopeful that by targeting this network in the future, we can develop mature cardiac tissues that can benefit patient cardiac health.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Everyone says this, but that’s because it’s true — it’s the people! From the moment I stepped into my interviews — one of them with David Yue, the namesake of another Young Investigators’ Day award — through the ups and downs of medical and graduate school, I have been surrounded by a vibrant community of brilliant and collaborative thinkers. And it’s not just the medical acumen, of course, but the collegiality and kindness — there have always been people to provide me with the support I needed to push through professional and personal challenges and succeed.

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

The M.D.–Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins is a very tight-knit family — you feel an instant bond, whether it’s with someone a couple of years below you or someone who graduated 20 years ago. This award is named for a beloved member of our program, and I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to be touched by his legacy.

What contributed to your project’s success?

Something I have tried to develop over my research career is an appreciation of different perspectives and expertise in tackling challenging problems. In the case of my dissertation work, a lot of the prior research in cardiac maturation had been approached from a tissue engineering angle, and indeed, that was where my initial interests began. However, my project really took off when we instead applied a developmental biology approach, thinking about how tissue maturation differed in the dish versus over normal development. This was a very new field to me, and so I was heavily guided by my P.I., Dr. Chulan Kwon, who is very much a development biology wizard.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles student and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

Science relies on constant innovation, excitement and rejuvenation — and it’s often young investigators who are poised to bring thrilling new ideas to the forefront. As a bastion of scientific excellence, Hopkins has done a tremendous job cultivating young scientists, and the resumes of the Young Investigators’ Day winners are a clear testament to that. I’m thrilled to be a part of this celebration.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

Too many to name — I’ve formed so many wonderful memories! But a particularly sweet memory has been lifting the school of medicine Olympics banner three times with my beloved Daniel Nathans college — the most excellent college.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

I will complete my M.D.-Ph.D. this spring and start internal medicine residency on the Osler service at Johns Hopkins. From there, I am hoping to pursue a clinician-scientist career in cardiology and heart failure, with the goal of developing regenerative cardiac therapies.

Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

Music is a big part of my life. In addition to playing guitar, I’m an avid music listener, and I love heading down to Fell’s Point to check out the latest local bands (the Cat’s Eye is my favorite hang). I have also been having fun recently setting up my vinyl record collection — I’ve been fiddling with old turntables from the ’70s and ’80s and stocking up on records at some of Baltimore’s lovely local stores.