How heart cells and vascular cells “talk” to each other, and what happens when they fail to communicate, is the topic of a free public lecture, “Communication: A Necessity of Life!,” by Janis M. Burt, PhD, on Monday, Nov. 18, noon to 1 p.m., in DuVal Auditorium, The University of Arizona Medical Center–University Campus, 1501 N. Campbell Ave., Tucson. (Please note: There is a parking fee of $1.50 per hour, cash only, in The UAMC–University Campus visitor/patient parking garage.)
Dr. Burt is professor of physiology and research professor of surgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, where she also is a member of the UA Sarver Heart Center and the Diabetes Research Program in the Division of Endocrinology.
During the event, Dr. Burt will receive the 2013 Faculty Science Forum Founders Day Award. The Founders Day lectureship was established in 1979 to recognize and honor UA College of Medicine faculty for their scientific accomplishments. Each year, faculty members select one of their peers to provide a presentation to commemorate the founding of the UA College of Medicine, which was dedicated Nov. 17, 1967. The award recipient is a faculty member who embodies a model of an investigator whose research work has a continuous thread of significance and who effectively can present that research with enthusiasm, vigor and inspiration.
Dr. Burt joined the UA College of Medicine – Tucson faculty in 1982 after completing two years of post-doctoral work at the University of California, Irvine, where she earned her doctorate in cell and developmental biology in 1980. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition from California State University, Northridge, in 1974.
“As is true for other processes that rely on communication for success, failure to communicate in the tissues of our bodies has severe consequences,” says Dr. Burt, whose research focuses on the cardiovascular system and the role of gap junctions in coordinating tissue function. Gap junctions are structures that connect neighboring cells and support the communication of signaling molecules between those cells. “When gap junctions don’t function properly, bad things happen, such as cardiac arrhythmias, vasospasm, lymphedema, cancer and poor wound healing, as in diabetic foot ulcers, or just skinning your knee.”
“Since the cardiovascular system impacts every tissue, failure of communication in this system is particularly bad. In the heart, fatal arrhythmias can result. The vasculature is the blood distribution system of our bodies – it has to adjust flow to meet tissue demands for oxygen and nutrients through an extraordinary dynamic range. Gap junctions are central to this process, but also to the response of a tissue to injury, for example wound repair. Gap junctions are critically important to growth and remodeling of the vasculature.”
“So, my talk will show how gap junctions and their comprising proteins form structures that support forms of communication essential (necessary) for life!”
Dr. Burt became interested in gap junctions working initially in a developmental biology/cancer lab and later in labs focused on heart research. “Our knowledge of these structures and their functions has grown exponentially over the last 40 years,” she notes.
Since joining the UA, Dr. Burt’s research focus has remained on gap junctions, but her cardiovascular focus has broadened to incorporate what she’s learned from teaching undergraduates, graduates and medical students, as well as from her colleagues at the UA and elsewhere.
“My academic journey has been fun and rewarding and largely possible due to the exceptional environment provided by my colleagues in the Department of Physiology, the College of Medicine and the University, as well as the fantastic students and staff with whom I've had the pleasure to work over the years,” she says.
Dr. Burt has received numerous awards over the years, including the Vernon and Virginia Furrow Award for “Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching and Mentoring,” which she received in 2008.
For more information about the lecture, including a map with directions, please visit http://medicine.arizona.edu/event/founders-day