AHA FIT Newsletter
Spotlight on Anurag Mehta, MD - Fall 2020 issue
Anurag Mehta, MD
University of Iowa
Anurag Mehta, MD, is a second-year cardiology fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and is the recent recipient of an AHA Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in 2019. He received his MBBS from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India, and completed his internal medicine residency training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. He is currently in the clinical investigator track at Emory, where he works as a postdoctoral fellow at the Emory Clinical Cardiovascular Research Institute with a focus on translational research related to peripheral arterial disease.
Tell me about your research project.
My research project is based on an ongoing clinical trial at Emory called GPAD-3 (principal investigator, Dr. Arshed Quyyumi). We are looking at granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) as a means for improving claudication symptoms in patients with peripheral arterial disease (PAD). The thought process behind the trial is that GM-CSF mobilizes stem and progenitor cells from the bone marrow which promote neoangiogenesis. Basic science studies as well as phase I/IIA clinical trials have shown that GM-CSF use can be helpful for alleviating claudication symptoms in PAD.
How did you get into this?
My mentor, Dr. Quyyumi, has expertise in this area. As the name suggests, this is the third iteration of our research group’s investigations in this area and GPAD-3 is an NHLBI-funded randomized, placebo-controlled, phase IIB clinical trial. When patients come to the screening visit, we talk about the purpose of the trial and what enrollment will entail. During the 1st month, patients do not get randomized and we prescribe a home-based walking exercise regimen where at least 3x/day, patients are directed to exercise to claudication. The reason we are doing this is because exercise therapy is a well-studied and effective management option for patients with PAD and stable claudication. I chose to focus my postdoctoral project on this 4-week period before patients were randomized to GM-CSF or placebo. I first wanted to see how walking exercise changes the levels of progenitor cells in the blood. The second aim was to see how walking exercise during those 4 weeks changes the plasma metabolomic profile in patients with PAD. For example, based on studies done here at Emory, low circulating progenitor cell counts and dysregulation of metabolic pathways involved with systemic inflammation and atherosclerosis progression predict the risk of adverse outcomes in patients with established atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. My thought was to investigate how exercise impacts progenitor cell counts and metabolic pathways in patients with established PAD.
What is the grant you applied for?
It is the AHA Postdoctoral Fellowship Award. It is a 1- or 2-year postdoctoral grant that can be used to fund clinical, translational, or basic science projects.
How has the grant helped you?
Firstly, writing and submitting a grant was a tremendous learning experience. Grant writing is different from manuscript writing, and although this was a short grant with a 5-page research plan, there are numerous items needed to submit. These include NIH biosketches for the trainee and mentor, a structured training plan, research environment details, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, budget justification, and more. So, I had to learn how to put together a grant. The good thing is that the mechanism of putting it together overlaps with NIH K awards and AHA career development awards, so I feel comfortable with writing additional grants in the near future. Furthermore, because of this grant, I was able to get into the field of PAD and expand my range in terms of the research work I’ve been doing. My previous work was related to coronary calcium and cardiovascular biomarkers, but with the AHA grant funding, I’ve gained invaluable translational research experience in the areas of vascular regenerative capacity and metabolomics. Finally, in addition to the salary support, the AHA provides for travel expenses and specific assistance with the project. With the funding, I was able to attend more conferences this past year, which allowed me to better understand the field and interface with other PAD experts.
What recommendations would you have for FITs when it comes to submitting an AHA grant application?
First, start early. If you are planning to apply for a grant, it takes time, energy, and commitment. I started working with my mentor in early February 2018 and the application was due in July 2018. Second, identify the right mentor, i.e. someone who has successfully mentored trainees in the past. Third, pick the right project - integrating your postdoctoral research project with an established and well-funded cohort study or clinical trial goes a long way in determining your application’s chances of getting funded. Lastly, don’t be afraid to expand beyond your prior research work and expertise. As a trainee, you’re not strongly tied to one area of research and expanding your range is helpful during the long run.
What are your future directions?
I want to become a physician scientist with expertise in PAD and preventative cardiology. Day to day, I would like to evenly split time between clinical and research work, where the patient population I care for in the clinic aligns closely with my research interests.