Griffiths Cardiovascular Research Laboratory

Our People

Photo: Dr. Leigh Griffiths

Dr. Leigh Griffiths

VetMB, RCVS Diplomate of Small Animal Surgery (Soft Tissue), Diplomate ACVIM (Cardiology), MRCVS, PhD, Assistant Professor

Dr. Griffiths graduated from Cambridge University in 1995, spent a year in small animal practice and then completed a residency in small animal soft tissue surgery at Glasgow University Veterinary School.  In 2000 he earned the Royal College of Veterinary Surgery diploma of small animal soft tissue surgery.  In 1999 he accepted a position as a lecturer in small animal surgery at University of Liverpool Veterinary School.  Dr. Griffiths is the first veterinary surgeon in the United Kingdom to train as a microvascular surgeon at the world-renowned Canneisburn Hospital.  He completed a fellowship in cardiac surgery at Colorado State University in 2003 followed by a PhD and residency in Cardiology.  In 2007 he joined the faculty at the University of California – Davis, where he runs the cardiovascular surgery program.  He provides services for cardiac angiography and non-invasive tests such as echocardiography and electrocardiography.  He is also interested in interventional cardiology, including pacemaker implementation, balloon valvuloplasty and patent ductus arteriosus occlusion.  Dr. Griffiths offers surgical options unavailable elsewhere: open heart surgery, procedures to correct congenital defects and selected cardiac tumor surgeries.  Dr. Griffiths’ basic science research program involves looking for ways to identify and ultimately avoid, the barriers to transplantation of animal derived tissue scaffolds for use in production of tissue engineered tissues (valve, vascular and cardiac patch replacement) and organs (heart transplantation) for implantation in animal and human patients.

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Photo: Maelene Wong

Maelene Wong

BACKGROUND: Maelene began her undergraduate education at UC Berkeley in 2000. Anxious to contribute to the advancements and progress in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, Maelene joined the Cell and Tissue Bioengineering Laboratory in 2002 as an undergraduate researcher. After graduating in 2004 with a B.S. in Bioengineering, Maelene's enthusiasm for cardiovascular tissue engineering led her to a research associate position in the Cardiac Stem Cell Translational Laboratory at UCSF. In 2007, Maelene entered the PhD program in Biomedical Engineering at UC Davis and anticipates completing her degree in early 2013 with a Designated Emphasis in Translational Research.

RESEARCH: Maelene's work centers on the generation of a functional scaffold for heart valve tissue engineering. To render xenogeneic scaffolds derived from xenogeneic tissues immunologically-acceptable, Maelene has developed a novel method to achieve antigen removal using a stepwise approach. Using this stepwise antigen removal strategy, Maelene has demonstrated that the global residual antigenicity of bovine pericardium is significantly reduced and the detection of the two most critical barriers to xenotransplantation (alpha-gal and MHC I) are eliminated compared to current decellularization protocols while biomaterial structure-function properties and recellularization potential are maintained.

Future work includes the continuation of biomaterial characterization via fatigue testing and in a large animal model. Studies toward the directed differentiation of stem cells on these xenogeneic scaffolds will also be undertaken. Application of our novel solubilization-based antigen removal method will be expanded to other tissues and organs of the body with the ultimate goal of translating this technology into engineered tissues and organs for patients.

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Photo: Zhizhao Liu

Zhizhao Liu

BACKGROUND: Zhizhao Liu was born in Chongqing, China. Zhizhao finished her undergraduate and graduate study in molecular biology and engineering in China, and then she was enrolled at the Charité-Universitaetsmedizin Berlin, Germany as a doctoral student in 2009. It was there she became a member of the ‘renal vessel physiology’ group. After receiving her doctoral title in 2013, Zhizhao continued her research in the same lab, but as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2014, Zhizhao joined the Griffiths Cardiovascular Research Laboratory to pursue her research interests as a postdoctoral scholar.

RESEARCH: Zhizhao has studied the role of several substances (endocrine, autocrine and paracrine) in the control of renal arteries and microvessels. She investigated the vascular element of acute kidney injury and the role of hypoxia in this context. Zhizhao successfully demonstrated that contrast media differentially affected the renal afferent and efferent arterioles. These findings gave a much better answer to the decreased glomerular filtration rate observed in contrast-induced acute kidney injury.

In the future, Zhizhao’s work would focus on the assessment of the in vivo immune response to animal derived scaffolds following antigen removal and the effects of allogeneic mesenchymal stem cell recellularization on them. The final aim is to produce an immunologically-acceptable, structurally integral and functional xenogeneic scaffold for use in cardiovascular tissue engineering.

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Photo: Jeny Shklover

Jeny Shklover

BACKGROUND: Jeny grew up in Israel. She successfully completed her bachelor’s degree in Medical Laboratory at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in 2004. Her love towards research lead her to graduate studies at the Faculty of Biochemistry, Technion where, after graduating MSc with high honor in 2006, she continued to conduct research for another year. In 2009, Jeny was accepted to a PhD program at Technion and during her studies on cell clearance received several excellency awards, including three years Clore Foundation Scholarship. After receiving her doctoral degree in 2015, Jeny moved to California and following her desire for more clinical path joined Griffiths Cardiovascular Research Laboratory at UC Davis as a postdoctoral researcher.

RESEARCH: During her master’s degree Jeny investigated interactions of transcription factors with potential G-quadruplex domain in gene promoters. She defined protein clusters that determine the differential affinities of myogenic factors for different DNA structures and showed the positive role of quadruplex DNA structures in regulation of muscle-specific genes expression. At later stage of her carrier, Jeny has demonstrated that gain-of-function of dJNK signaling in embryonic neurons induces dJNK pathway activation in glia, which promotes glial phagocytosis and discovered a novel role of the Drosophila sole TNF-alpha homolog, Eiger, in elimination of damaged neurons during development. Those results lead to a better understanding of the process of removal of dead or foreign cells.

Jeny’s work in the Griffiths Cardiovascular Research Laboratory concentrates on tissue engineering of replacement small diameter vessels, myocardium and whole heart. She investigates different aspects of endothelial cells recellularization of xenogeneic scaffolds generated in a novel solubilization-based antigen removal method.

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Photo: Ailsa Dalgliesh

Ailsa Dalgliesh

BACKGROUND: Before attending university, Ailsa worked with both large and small animal veterinarians across the United States and in the south of England. It was her interest in veterinary medicine that prompted her to pursue a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with an emphasis in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior from the University of California, Davis.  During Ailsa's undergraduate career, she continued working within large animal medicine and in doing so, became more involved in research. Ailsa has always been fascinated by the cardiovascular system, so during her senior year she reached out to Dr Griffiths to learn more about his research specifically. It is within the Griffiths Cardioresearch Laboratory Ailsa has found the perfect balance of medicine and research and it is where she will complete her graduate research for her Ph.D. program; Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology.

RESEARCH: In the Griffiths Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, Ailsa works specifically with bovine pericardium in order to develop an immunologically-acceptable and structurally sound xenogeneic scaffold, which has recellularization capacity and can be used in heart valve tissue engineering.  Ailsa utilizes three success criterion: 1 - statistically significant reduction in residual antigenicity, 2 - maintenance of ECM structure, composition, mechanical properties, and recellularization capacity which are not significantly different from native BP, 3 - In vivo graft specific immune response which is less than or equal to glutaraldehyde-fixed BP.

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Photo: Katherine Gates

Katherine Gates

BACKGROUND: Katherine is a first year Veterinary Scientist Teaching Program (VSTP) student at UC Davis.  She completed her BS in Animal Science at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2012 but her interest in research began in high school when she spent a summer at Southern Illinois University working in a histology lab.  In her second summer of undergraduate school Katherine sought out an internship at NIH’s veterinary pathology department in Bethesda Maryland to learn about pathology.  Katherine assisted in necropsies and slide readings as well as embedding tissues for the microtome.  Since her early childhood Katherine wanted to be a veterinarian, but her summer at NIH showed her that she could combine both veterinary medicine and research.  In Katherine's junior year she worked in a reproductive physiology lab learning basic science like PCR, RNA extraction, and micro-dropping.  Encouraged by her experience, she took a class about Immunology and knew she had found her passion.  In the summer of 2011 Katherine received the Summer Scholars Grant from UMD and completed a summer research project in which she investigated the effects of NNK on the activation of naïve T cells. It invigorated Katherine to have a project of her very own, to learn to write her own protocols, to collect her own data and she knew that she wanted to pursue a dual degree in both veterinary medicine and Immunology.  During Katherine's interview process for the VSTP at UC Davis she met Dr. Griffiths and knew she wanted to conduct research with him.  Dr. Griffiths’ expectations for a Ph.D. candidate clicked with Katherine's and she knew that he would be an excellent guiding force in her pursuit of a Ph.D. in Immunology.  At the moment Katherine is in her first year of vet school but will join Dr. Griffith’s lab in the fall of 2014. In the meantime Katherine plans to work in Dr. Griffith’s lab during summers learning the techniques she will need to complete her Ph.D.

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Photo: Alycia Cook

Alycia Cook

Alycia is a junior specialist in Dr. Griffiths' lab and recently graduated from UC Davis with a Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Biology. During her junior year, she was eager to get involved in molecular biology research and joined the Orthopedics Lab in UCDSVM’s department of Anatomy, Physiology and Cellular Biology. During her senior year, she worked on an undergraduate research project examining VEGF expression in mice osteoblast precursor cells and rat osteosarcoma cells under hypoxia. She is currently broadening her molecular and cellular research experience by collaborating on cardiovascular tissue engineering projects, in addition to learning new and valuable scientific approaches and techniques.

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Photo: Katherine Griffin

Katherine Griffin

Katherine is currently working towards her BS in Microbiology at UC Davis. Passionate about veterinary medicine since she was young, she has gained clinical experience at small animal and equine practices and presently works as a veterinary technician in the UC Davis Large Animal Critical Care Unit. During her sophomore year, she reached out to Dr. Griffiths because she wanted to know more about the research aspect of veterinary medicine. She is very excited to be beginning her research experience in Dr. Griffiths’ lab, where she is learning basic techniques and procedures while assisting and collaborating with other members.

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Photo: Kimberley Sannajust

Kimberley Sannajust

Kimberley Sannajust is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at UC Davis. With a passion for health sciences and medicine, Kimberley became involved in Dr. Griffiths' lab in order to discover the role of research in advancing the health of animals and humans. She is currently mentored by Dr. Maelene Wong who has helped Kimberley develop her laboratory skills and knowledge of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. In the future, she plans to apply to veterinary school while continuing her involvement in biomedical research.


Photo: Derek Hanes

Derek Hanes

BACKGROUND: Derek is a native Texan, but spent most of his childhood in central New Mexico.  Following graduation from high school, he attended the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where he obtained a B.S. in Biology with emphasis in pre-veterinary medicine.  Following graduation, he moved to southwest Louisiana where he began applying for veterinary school.  Derek was first accepted to St. George’s University in Grenada, W.I.; though after a year of study transferred to Oklahoma State University, College of Veterinary and Health Sciences.  Derek received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Oklahoma State University in 2013 with primary interests in cardiology and small animal surgery.  Following completion of his formal education, Derek then moved to the greater Seattle area to participate in a small animal general rotating internship where he pursued electives in cardiology and emergency medicine.  Following completion of his one year internship, Derek obtained a postdoctoral fellowship with the University of California, Davis doing cardiovascular research using minimally invasive surgical techniques and regenerative medicine.

RESEARCH: Derek’s current field of study has been in the development of a novel, closed-chest, porcine model of ischemic cardiomyopathy.  Following development of the chronic model, he participated in investigational research involving transplantation of stem cell seeded tissue scaffolds to evaluate for efficacy in preserving or restoring cardiac performance following infarction.  Derek has also contributed to clinical investigational studies involving the utility of the vertebral heart scale in evaluating the severity of volume overload in canine patients with myxomatous mitral valve degeneration, as well as evaluating the efficacy of sildenafil in reducing pulmonary vascular resistance in patients with pulmonary hypertension.

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Photo: C.W Jenny Chang

C.W Jenny Chang

BACKGROUND: Chia-Wei “Jenny” Chang was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on September 24th, 1982. Jenny finished elementary and middle school education in Taiwan. In 1998, Jenny moved to Belize City, Belize, where she attended Pallotti High School and graduated as the salutatorian in May, 2002. Jenny enrolled at University of Wisconsin – Madison for her undergraduate study, majoring in genetics. Jenny participated in research opportunity with Dr. James L. Kecks to study the oligomerization of RecQ helicase in E. coli and received a Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty research fellowship in 2004. In the summer of 2005, Jenny was a summer undergraduate research fellow (SURF) at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, and worked on lipid trafficking in Dr. Richard Pagano’s lab. Jenny graduated with her bachelor in science with honors from University of Wisconsin – Madison in May, 2006. In August of 2006, Jenny enrolled as a Ph.D student at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, IL. In the spring of 2008, Jenny joined Cell and Molecular Physiology program and the lab of Dr. Donald M Bers to study the hypertrophic signaling in adult cardiac myocytes. Later that year, the lab relocated to University of California – Davis, where Jenny has been working on her dissertation research. In June, 2009, Jenny was awarded a two-year predoctoral fellowship from the American Heart Association (Midwest Affiliate). Jenny also completed a business development certificate from Graduate School of Management at University of California – Davis in 2011. Jenny graduated with her Ph.D degree in August, 2012 and is pursuing a post-doctoral fellow position in laboratory of Dr. Leigh Griffiths in January, 2013.

RESEARCH: My dissertation research focuses on the receptor-mediated hypertrophic signaling pathway in adult ventricular myocytes. In particular, my project examines the activation and translocation of protein kinase D and histone deacetylase 5 using GFP-tagged adenovirus in cultured myocytes isolated from normal rabbits and heart failure rabbits. I am experienced with confocal fluorescence microscopy, fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) imaging, primary cell culturing, molecular biology, western blotting, co-immunoprecipitation and immunostaining. I am looking to learn in vivo animal experiences, stem cell biology and other techniques as a post-doctoral trainee to pursue my interest in translational research related to human cardiac disease and development.

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Photo: Angeliki (Angela) Papalamprou

Angeliki (Angela) Papalamprou

BACKGROUND: After finishing her bachelor’s degree on Molecular Biology and Genetics, Angela went to the UK and pursued a MSc. in Sports Physiology where she worked on a ground-breaking project on endogenous Cardiac Stem Cell activation following exercise training. There she discovered her passion for Molecular Cardiology, which led her to UC Davis for a Ph.D in Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology. At UC Davis, Angela rotated in three different laboratories before joining Dr. Griffiths’ laboratory in September 2010. Between 2012-2013, Angela received the HHMI-IMBS award, which entails participating in an intensive two-month summer institute that included cardiovascular and grant writing courses and clinical rotations in the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento (including Cardiology, OR, Heart Clinic, ER). She valued the rare opportunity to be next to physicians, observe closely how they approach each case and ask them about the limitations and problems of current treatments/methodologies. Informal discussions with patients have motivated her even more about the impact translational research may have on patients. In June 2013 Angela received a 2-year Predoctoral Fellowship from the American Heart Association for her project on myocardial patch tissue engineering (WSA).

RESEARCH: Angela is working on the development of an immunologically acceptable myocardial scaffold that could be used for tissue engineering applications (such as after heart attacks). She believes it is a very exciting project because it combines the clinical need for a readily available biological scaffold that would serve as a myocardial patch and that would also be acceptable for implantation in an immunocompetent recipient. During her time in this laboratory, Angela set up the myocardial patch model from the beginning and developed all the antigen removal and characterization protocols for this tissue (IHC, biomechanical and biochemical assays, etc). She is currently working on recellularizing her myocardial scaffolds with murine and human Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), assessing recellularization capacity/efficiency vs. literature controls and implanting her scaffolds into an iv vivo subcutaneous mouse model.

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