Research Communications

The Heart of the Matter: Adam Jara balances heart research with clinical training in unique program 

By Jessica Salerno

As Adam Jara was planning for a career in laboratory research, he had the opportunity to work with a general surgeon who allowed him to observe procedures such as gall bladder removals and hernia repairs. Jara recalls that the doctor encouraged him to pursue medical school, arguing that practicing medicine is a direct way to positively impact the life of a human being.

Torn between earning a Ph.D. or a medical degree, Jara soon learned that at Ohio University, he could do both. The Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine offers a dual degree program that allows participants to pursue an intensive research program in addition to medical school education.

After completing two years of courses in osteopathic medicine, Jara is now in his third year of research for his doctoral degree, which is through the molecular and cellular biology program in the College of Arts and Sciences. He's engaged in a study of how growth hormone regulates heart function, under the guidance of John Kopchick, Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar and Professor of Molecular Biology.

While Jara admits that the duration of the dual degree program-about seven years-was intimidating at first, he describes his experience as "wonderful" and says that the last five years have flown by.

Adam Jara (Photo credit: Rob Hardin)

"I am excited to begin my clinical rotations where I can hopefully approach the experience from a research perspective and become involved in translational projects," he says.  

Kopchick, who has been very supportive of Jara's pursuit of the dual degree, serves as a model for how to combine success in both research and medicine. His discovery of a growth hormone receptor antagonist in the laboratory led to the development of a drug for people with acromegaly, a form of gigantism. The drug, SOMAVERT ® (pegvisomant for injection), is marketed by Pfizer.
At the Edison Biotechnology Institute, Kopchick and Jara study mice that lack the receptor for growth hormone, specifically in the heart tissue. The goal of his research is to understand how growth hormone affects the function and structure of the heart.

The research has potential clinical applications. A growth hormone supplement may be prescribed to children with delayed growth, and it's also been used in experimental treatments for heart failure. However, growth hormone has been known to have several side effects, including diabetes, fluid retention, and thickening of the skin and bones.

Jara receives support from a graduate fellowship from the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, he has received funding for his research from the university's Student Enhancement Award program and the Summer Endocrine Society Fellowship. He's presented findings at several professional conferences across the country and has received awards for his work.
John Kopchick (left) and Adam Jara (Photo credit: Rob Hardin)

Once he's completed the program, Jara may pursue a residency in internal medicine and then either focus on cardiology or endocrinology. The student notes that he has a passion for the latter subject, given that he comes from a family with a history of diabetes. He's also fascinated by the science behind the condition.

Ideally, he'd like to be able to continue research and also treat patients.

"I would love to be able to have a clinic where I see patients most of the time, two or three days a week," Jara says, "and the remainder of the week I'd like to have a research lab."

This story appears in the special graduate student edition of Ohio University's Perspectives magazine, published in spring 2013.