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Seed Grant Bridges Gap Between Idea and NIH Grant

Ming-Sing Si, MD

The preliminary research data supported by a grant from the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation Seed Grant Research Program were strong enough for Ming-Sing Si, MD, to apply for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

While doing his cardiac surgery training at the University of Michigan, Dr. Si found few options available to residents looking for research funding. He eventually learned about the AMA Foundation Seed Grant Research Program, applied for and received a seed grant in 2009.

“I support student research because these are the people who are going to be the future scientists who will advance medicine,” said John B. Neeld, Jr., MD, a top donor to the AMA Foundation Annual Fund, which supports the seed grant program.

The AMA Foundation established the Seed Grant Research Program to encourage medical students, physician residents and fellows to enter the research field. The program provides one-year grants of $2,500 to help students conduct small research projects.

“Most of the research costs were covered by the grant. Plus, it certainly took a lot of the stress out of procuring funding,” explained Dr. Si, who thanked the donors to the AMA Foundation who made his grant possible. 

Dr. Si used his grant to supplement his research on self-organized cardiac tissue with stem cells isolated from thymus tissue discarded during pediatric cardiac surgery. He found that thymus stem cells dramatically increased the force of cardiac muscle fibers as opposed to muscle fibers made from heart cells alone.

Children and babies with congenital heart disease are expected to benefit from the use of this type of tissue. Congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect. Annually, more than 35,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects in the United States.

A promising strategy to help with this condition is to grow additional contractile cells to assist the failing heart, or even grow a bioartificial pumping device that can be implanted into the patient.

Dr. Si is researching the mechanisms by which this muscular force is improved. “Instead of improving force, I can make a pump to improve pressure generation,” Dr. Si explained.