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Physician-scientist Jane Freedman focuses on improving cardiovascular health

By Megan Bard and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

December 14, 2018

The Women in Science video series on UMassMedNow highlights the many areas of research conducted by women at UMass Medical School.

The single-minded goal of cardiologist and scientist Jane Freedman, MD, is to seek insights that will help heal patients with heart disease. 

“My research has transitioned somewhat over the years, but I’ve always been fundamentally interested in what causes the clots that lead people to have heart attacks and strokes. We still study the cells which are responsible for this, which are called platelets,” said Dr. Freedman, the Edward Budnitz, MD, Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine. “But the research in my lab has greatly expanded to also look at sources of RNA, which is at the transition between DNA and proteins in platelets, and how they may contribute to a myriad of diseases including heart disease.”

Freedman deploys research techniques ranging from traditional bench work to cutting edge technologies in the two research programs she oversees. The first, which examines the role of immunity, infection, and inflammation on atherothrombotic disease, has made significant discoveries with implications for improved treatments.

Freedman also directs the High-Throughput Gene Expression and Biomarker Core at UMMS and is the director of translational research for the UMass Memorial Heart & Vascular Center, where she is an attending physician. Through her involvement in the historic Framingham Heart Study, the High Throughput Core has become one of the Study’s key elements for the study of gene expression. Building on earlier research from the Framingham study, Freedman’s biomarker research has demonstrated important risks associated with molecular mediators of inflammation, including cytokines and circulating microRNAs. As director of a project compiling a complete profile of miRNA expression in thousands of Framingham study participants, Freedman is gleaning insights from patient data collected from generations of subjects to develop tests for the detection and prevention of heart disease.

“We make gene expression repositories of large data sets with samples from tens of thousands of human participants. Our lab was established to study RNA from platelets in thousands of people so we’ve become a resource for looking at different types of RNA in the samples gathered from many different populations,” Freedman said. “We find that different patterns of diverse types of RNA heavily relate to types of diseases, including diseases such as diabetes; stroke; heart failure; as well as different types of cancers.”

A graduate of Yale University and Tufts University School of Medicine, Freedman completed a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and her cardiology fellowship training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Following faculty appointments at Boston University and Georgetown University, she was recruited to UMMS in 2011 to join the RNA research enterprise. She is the incoming editor-in-chief for Circulation Research, the research journal of the American Heart Association. 

Crediting influential mentors throughout her education and career for guidance and support, Freedman is a mentor in programs for the American Heart Association and the UMMS Junior Faculty Development program. 

“The mentor must be someone who understands your specific needs. In addition to finding a good mentor, it’s great to find someone … three to five years ahead of you who is doing what you might be interested in and ask her how she got from where you are now to that point,” she noted. “And, specifically for younger women and women trainees, don’t doubt yourself! Just go out there and try to achieve the goals that you’ve envisioned.”

Learn more about Freedman in this Women in Science video.

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