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Participation in PHA Conference Opens Doors for Northwestern University Researcher

This post was first published in PHA website.

Zhiyu Dai, Ph.D., a researcher at Northwestern University and assistant professor of research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, has presented his work during the past two Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions. He also has been awarded top abstract in basic science by the Scientific Sessions Committee twice in a row. Recently, Dr. Dai wrote about his research and how participation in PHA’s conferences has positively affected his career.

“I was trained in biochemistry and molecular biology in Sun Yat-Sen University at Guangzhou, China. I was interested in studying circulatory vasculature during my postdoctoral training. PAH (pulmonary arterial hypertension) is one form of severe pulmonary vascular disease with high mortality and the need for more basic scientists to investigate. When I joined the lab of my current mentor, Dr. You-Yang Zhao, an expert in lung and vascular biology with excellent expertise in genetically modified animal models of pulmonary disease, I devoted myself to understanding the basic mechanisms of PAH development and hopefully to finding a cure for this severe disease.

“My current research is focused on the molecular mechanisms of PHD2/HIF-2α signaling in controlling the obstructive pulmonary vascular remodeling and severe PAH. My studies established a first mouse model called Egln1Tie2 mice (Egln1 gene encodes PHD2) that exhibit severe PAH, including occlusion and formation of plexiform-like lesions and right heart failure. This model recapitulates many characteristic features of clinical PAH. My studies also found that genetic deletion or pharmacologic inhibition of HIF-2α could reverse severe PAH in several preclinical models, suggesting that HIF-2α is a promising therapeutic approach for the treatment of PAH patients.

“I submitted research abstracts and attended both the 2016 and 2018 PHA International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions. Importantly, the PHA Scientific Sessions committees ranked my abstracts as the winner in the basic science category twice, and invited me to present my work during the two conferences where I was exposed to other researchers in the field of PH. During the conferences, I had a chance to communicate and discuss with senior investigators and junior colleagues from all around the world about scientific questions and career development. I recall a conversation I had with Vinicio de Jesus Perez, M.D., from Stanford University after my presentation at PHA’s Conference in 2016. Dr. de Jesus Perez encouraged me to apply for the NIH K99/R00 grant. I applied and was awarded the grant in September 2017 and will establish my own lab soon. I will continue to study how obliterative vascular remodeling forms and how the right heart fails in the development and progression of PAH, as these parts are largely unknown and untreated by current therapies. Because of PHA and the interactive communications happening during the conferences, now I can continue to study the research I like and contribute to finding the cure for PAH.

“The difference between PHA’s International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions and other conferences is patient involvement. As a bench worker, I don’t have the opportunity to [see the impact of my work] in patients. During the conference, I am able to speak with patients and engage in raising public awareness. I forget the frustration of bench work and grant submissions; I gain strength and motivation from PHA’s Conference.”

Dr. Dai’s award-winning abstracts from PHA’s 2016 and 2018 International PH Conference and Scientific Sessions are published in Volume 15, Number 3 and Volume 17, Number 1 of PHA’s quarterly medical journal, Advances in Pulmonary Hypertension, respectively. View the abstracts online at

Zhiyu Dai, Ph.D. @Chicago



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