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Heart of the matter

Northeastern grad student Tianzhu “Indi” Zang has won a competitive American Heart Association (AHA) pre-doctoral fellowship to study the connection between an amino acid commonly found in the human bloodstream and cardiovascular disease.

Zang will collaborate with medical researchers at Harvard, Tufts, and Boston University to take a close look at the amino acid homocysteine, which has also been linked to diabetes and birth defects.

According to Zang’s advisor, Zhaohui “Sunny” Zhou, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and a Barnett Institute of Chemical and Biological Analysis fellow, the work will focus on understanding whether homocysteine and its derivatives cause cardiovascular disease.

Zang will test the hypothesis that homocysteine alters particular proteins, creating conditions that trigger cardiovascular problems. He has devised a chemical method to detect such protein modifications. He will also attempt to determine which proteins are altered.

The third-year doctoral student earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biochemistry from Jilin University, in Changchun, China.

In 2007, he joined Zhou at the Barnett Institute. Zang says he is excited to be conducting research at the cutting-edge center.

“Northeastern chemistry and chemical-biology researchers, and the Barnett Institute have such a strong background in analysis,” he says. “This was the reason I chose the university.”

Since coming to Northeastern, Zang has coauthored three publications and submitted a fourth as first author. In 2008, the Barnett Institute presented Zang with the Gustel and Ernst Giessen Memorial Award in recognition of his research achievements.

Zhou applauds his student’s attainment of the AHA fellowship. “As a young student from a foreign country—as I once was—Indi faced many challenges to win such a competitive award,” he says. “He should be very proud of his achievement. I am extremely happy for him.”

Barry Karger, director of the Barnett Institute, also praises Zang’s accomplishment—an honor, Karger says, that reflects the high quality of the personnel at the center and the research being conducted there.

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