Heart Institute Faculty Anita Saraf MD, PhD, Receives AHA Career Development Award

August 6, 2021

The Heart Institute at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh congratulates physician-scientist Anita P. Saraf, MD, PhD, for receiving a 2021 American Heart Association Career Development Award that will support her continuing studies in congenital heart disease (CHD). The competitive three-year award will assist Dr. Saraf on her path toward becoming an independent investigator and open opportunities to begin new studies in the domain of adult congenital heart disease.

Anita Saraf, MD, PhDDr. Saraf is an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an attending physician in the Heart Institute's Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center, where she has a clinical emphasis on single ventricle Fontan circulation and pregnancy and women's health in patients with ACHD. She joined the Heart Institute at UPMC Children’s in August 2020.

Past research by Dr. Saraf has shown that patients with Fontan circulation have chronically elevated proinflammatory cytokines that contribute to complications such as heart failure and arrhythmias later in life. In addition to this chronically elevated inflammatory profile,  genetic mutations are known to drive CHD pathology. Research on the subject shows that these mutations are complex and involve multiple environmental factors. The impact of these mutations in a post-developmental heart in the presence of inflammation is unknown. 

"The genetics of congenital heart disease is very complex. Over time, we have come to appreciate that  mutations contributing to CHD are not monogenic Most forms of CHD are the product of complex multigenic mutations and their interactions with environmental and developmental factors in utero," says Dr. Saraf. 

Dr. Saraf investigates the interaction between inflammation and genetic mutations associated with CHD and how these factors cause arrhythmias and heart failure to better understand these pathways. Her laboratory uses induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), in combination with CRISPR/Cas9 technology, to generate cell lines with unique complex mutations in NOTCH1, a receptor protein implicated in numerous forms of CHD. Using patient-derived iPSCs with NOTCH1 mutations in combination with genetically engineered iPSCs, Dr. Saraf hopes to identify external factors, such as inflammatory cytokines, that may contribute to the higher burden of morbidities and mortality seen in CHD patients. 

Ultimately, Dr. Saraf's studies are designed to identify targets for new therapies and uncover additional mechanistic pathways not currently understood in congenital heart disease in adults.

“I am honored to have received the award for my research proposal from the American Heart Association and even more excited to continue this work in an effort to find life-changing and life-saving therapies for our many congenital heart disease patients,” says Dr. Saraf.

Learn more about Dr. Saraf, her research, and recent publications here.