How heart attack–induced nerve loss affects long-term heart health
Note: This interview was conducted in fall 2018. Srinivas Tapa was a Business Development Fellow in 2018/19.
Srinivas (Srinu) Tapa is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Group and works in the field of cardiac disease and arrhythmia under the guidance of Dr. Crystal Ripplinger. Before coming to UC Davis, Tapa finished his undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering at the George Washington University. During his tenure there, he worked on numerous research projects involved with cardiac electrophysiology and cardiac devices, which inspired him to pursue a career in medical innovation and/or cardiac devices.
Although Tapa has a wealth of STEM knowledge, he has realized that other skills such as communication, organization and leadership are necessary to thrive in industry. He has honed these skills through the UC Davis Leaders for the Future program and hopes to gain even more experience through the Business Development Fellows program.
Describe your project or venture.
My dissertation project strives to better understand how heart attack–induced nerve loss affects long-term heart health. When people think of a heart attack, most correctly think of damage to the heart muscle, but very few think of damage to the other important tissue in the heart: nerve fibers. Normally, these regulate heart rate, beat intensity and synchronicity. After a heart attack, scaring and disorganization of nerve fibers occurs in the damaged region. This situation sets the heart up to have irregular signal conduction, causing potentially fatal abnormal heart patterns, called arrhythmias.
To directly understand the effects of nerve loss, I’ve created a research model where I can selectively destroy nerve fibers, similar to a heart attack, but without causing any muscle damage. In this way, the changes to heart function we observe in our studies can be more directly attributed to nerve loss.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
The important parts of my research are the methods of how we investigative nerve loss. Clinically, there are studies that show that the amount of nerve loss patients suffer as a result of heart attacks could directly correlate to their lifespan. Our method is one of the only ways to investigate nerve loss without causing any damage to the heart muscle. I hope that my research may lead to a common practice in the clinic of checking the quantity of nerve loss, and maybe even new drug development to restore nerves in the injury area.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Ever since my high school biology class I’ve been passionate about the heart and the circulatory system. I was amazed by how the organ can work perfectly our entire lives, but also how it can have mishaps depending on a person’s diet, activity and genetics. Here at UC Davis, I am able to do research in a field that I am excited about and I feel fulfilled knowing that my work will further understanding of how and why heart disease occurs.
I am passionate about cardiac device innovation and heart research, but I have realized that I want to be in project management and business development, rather than research and development.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
The importance of making mistakes. The concept of making small mistakes throughout the development process rather than a huge mistake at the end is advice I actually now think about more in my day-to-day life. It’s important to make assumptions, test them, make mistakes and learn from them during the whole journey so that the end product is better for it. Innovation is an iterative process, building on the mistakes that are made on the way to the goal.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
That a career path is NOT set in stone or a straight line: it deviates and crisscrosses more often than not. If you feel like the path you are on now isn’t necessarily the right one for you, there are ways to transition and gain skill for the path you’d like to be on, as long as you’re proactive. The graduate education sets one up to have a wealth of skills in their toolbox, but more importantly, the skills necessary to adapt to any situation. For example, I am passionate about cardiac device innovation and heart research, but I have realized that I want to be in project management and business development, rather than research and development. Being involved with the Business Development Fellows, the Entrepreneurship Academy, Leaders for the Future, and the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology programs allow me fill out my repertoire of business skills on my way to the career I want.
Are you participating in the Big Bang! Business Competition or “just” the workshops? How do you expect this to help you as an aspiring entrepreneur?
I am participating in the workshops but if during the process I find a team with an idea that I feel passionate about, I intend to enter the Big Bang! competition. The workshops and the process of the competition gives practical experience in crafting a compelling business pitch for people of diverse, potentially non-business, backgrounds. Individuals and teams will be able to create real elevator pitches, frame problems, figure our customer need and perform market analysis. Additionally, I will be able to build a meaning for network that I can use for other entrepreneurial ventures.
Here at UC Davis, I am able to do research in a field that I am excited about and I feel fulfilled knowing that my work will further understanding of how and why heart disease occurs.
How will your experiences as a Business Development Fellow help you to change the world?
I can’t say if I will actually change the world, but I’d like to think that I could enhance it. My experiences through research and career development programs at UC Davis have taught me the importance of communication, leadership and “TEAM”-based approaches to problem solving. Through the Business Development Fellows program, I am learning the importance of empathizing with your target audience when creating your venture, figuring why they do the things they do, and creating the best solution that works for them. The training I’ve received has set me up to be an effective member of any team on my career path.