Photo of Stanford student and Stanford Bio-X Undergraduate Summer Research Program Participant Foster Birnbaum.
2019 and 2018 Undergraduate Summer Research Program Participant and 2020 Cohort Lead

Home Department: Biology and Computer Science
Mentor: Helen Blau, Microbiology & Immunology

2018 Research Project: The X-linked recessive disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) affects 1 in every 3,500 males, causing heart failure around age twenty-five. Foster will investigate the movement of drugs such as beta-blockers (drugs that decrease the rate of heart beat) and ACE inhibitors (drugs that dilate blood vessels) into stem cell derived heart cells from DMD patients. This proposed study will establish a baseline profile for future drug discovery and drug toxicity screens.

2019 Research Project: Familial dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is one of the most common genetic heart diseases in the United States: genetic DCM affects one in every 1,000 people and can lead to sudden cardiac death in children and adults. While mutations in genes encoding sarcomeric proteins have been implicated in genetic DCM, little is known about how sarcomere remodeling contributes to DCM progression. Foster will develop an image-detection script to identify sarcomeres and combine it with a stem cell-derived heart cell platform to study sarcomere remodeling in DCM.

2020 Research Project: “Investigating the Mechanism of Contractile Dysfunction in Genetic Cardiomyopathies”

Many common genetic cardiomyopathies, such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, are caused by mutations in genes involved in the function of the sarcomere, the fundamental unit of heart muscle cell contraction. Foster will leverage a human induced stem cell-derived cardiac model and state-of-the-art imaging and analysis techniques to study the mechanism by which these mutations disrupt contraction. Insights into this mechanism will aid in the development of more targeted treatments for genetic cardiomyopathies.