Medical innovation in long-term heart health
Srinivas (Srinu) Tapa is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical engineering graduate group and conducts research related to cardiac arrhythmia under the guidance of Crystal Ripplinger. Tapa completed his undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering at George Washington University. During his tenure there, he worked on numerous research projects related to cardiac electrophysiology and cardiac devices that inspired him to pursue a career in the realms of medical devices and medical innovation.
Describe your project or venture.
My dissertation project strives to 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 other heart tissues, such as nerve fibers. Normally, these nerve fibers 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 understand the effects of nerve loss, I have created a research model where I destroy only 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 attributed more directly to nerve loss.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
My research concerns how we investigate nerve loss. Clinically, there are studies that show that the amount of nerve loss a patient has can directly correlate to long-term mortality rates. Our method is one of the only ways to investigate nerve loss without causing any damage to the heart muscle. I hope that this 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.
I am pretty risk averse, so the uncertainty of startups and entrepreneurship always seemed to contrast with my personality. However, Leaders for the Future and the Entrepreneurship Academy taught me that you could have “controlled uncertainty” by putting in the work to understand the need, marketplace and significance of your innovation.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Ever since my high school biology class, I have been passionate about the heart and the circulatory system. I was amazed by how the organ can work perfectly our entire lives, but can also 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 feel fulfilled knowing that my work will further understanding of how and why heart disease occurs. I am able to study these research models to understand the human heart.
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 also now think about more in my day-to-day life. It is important to make assumptions, test them, make mistakes and learn from them during the whole journey so that the product is better for it. Innovation is an iterative process, building on the mistakes 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 is not necessarily the right one for you, there are ways to transition and gain skill for the path you would like to be on as long as you are proactive. 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 now that I want to be in project management and business development, rather than research and development. Being involved with the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurship Academy, Leaders for the Future and the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology programs allows me to expand and complete my repertoire of business skills on my way to the career I want.
What is the most important thing you discovered in the Leaders for the Future program?
The importance of explaining who you are, what you do, why you do it and where you want to be as simply and as concisely as possible. Most people are very interested in learning about you and your research, but a common mistake scientists make is speaking too technically to a lay audience. In this case, the point is lost and all the jargon makes science seem foreign. Thus, it is important to evaluate the “who, what, where and whys” of your life to easily share with other as you build a network throughout your career.
How will your experiences help you to change the world?
I cannot say if I will actually change the world, but I would like to think that I could enhance it. My experiences through research and career development programs at UC Davis taught me the importance of communication, leadership and “TEAM”-based approaches to problem solving. The training I have received has set me up to be an effective member of any team on my career path.
How will your experiences as a Leader for the Future and at the academy shape your professional future?
I would say that I am pretty risk averse, so the uncertainty of startups and entrepreneurship always seemed to contrast with my personality. However, Leaders for the Future and the Entrepreneurship Academy taught me that you could have “controlled uncertainty” by putting in the work to understand the need, marketplace and significance of your innovation.
I have also become a better leader and a more confident speaker through my journey in these programs. I am able to share my opinions and debate with my colleagues in a more productive way to achieve our goal.
Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
Though science, engineering and business development are aspects that I need for a fulfilled career, other parts of life make me who I am. These include my passion for nature, travel, food and photography. I truly believe that balance is the goal of life. While my time at UC Davis has given me the opportunity for professional development, it has also allowed me to take opportunities to be out in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe and travel abroad.