"Every Gift You Make to our Research Makes a Difference."

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Dane Farlee visits the Riley Hospital Herman B Wells Center.

I was privileged to get to meet Dane Farlee from Fort Wayne a few months ago when he and his family surprised us with a visit to my research lab at the Riley Hospital Herman B Wells Center. Dane was just 9 days old when was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Riley Heart Surgeon Mark Turrentine, M.D., operated on Dane’s tiny heart, which was only the size of a walnut.

It was the first of five surgeries Dane needed because he was born with a congenital heart defect called critical aortic stenosis where his aortic valve was too narrow restricting the flow of oxygenated blood out of his heart to the rest of his body.

Dane is now 12 years old and is living the exciting life of a normal active boy! He is excelling at school, running about with friends, and proudly contributing to his little league baseball team’s recent  tournament championship victory. To think of Dane running about the bases with a repaired heart in his chest is the kind of inspiration that drives me and my lab team to better understand how congenital defects like critical aortic stenosis occur and formulate specific strategies to combat them.

It was really rewarding to show Dane and his family what a research lab is like and how my lab and the entire cardiac developmental biology group at the Wells Center are making new discoveries that reveal the gene regulatory networks that when misregulated cause congenital heart defects. The overriding goal of our lab and the cardiac developmental biology group here at the Wells Center is that our discoveries add insight into specific molecular causes of heart defects and that the gained insight will lead to better treatments for heart abnormalities like Dane had and improve outcomes.

One in 100 children are born with congenital heart defects. Newborns and their families come to Riley each day from all over Indiana and beyond for help.

As a researcher at Riley, I can tell you personally that your gifts make a huge difference to our research efforts in the Wells Center. It is you, the generous Riley Foundation donors, who help us get our research off the ground.

We are currently working on a three-part project that your donations helped us begin. My colleague Stephanie Ware, Ph.D., is working on a protein that’s involved in left-right patterning that affects heart development. She is studying cells that will form the heart before they’ve even become heart cells.

My own project looks at a gene known as Hand 1, which is expressed while the left ventricle is forming during gestation. By better understanding how a heart forms, and how genetic factors can cause left ventricle problems, we hope to pave a pathway to future medical interventions that help kids.

Another part of the project led by my colleague Weinan Shou, Ph.D., is looking at the later phase of cardiac development. His work focuses on protein that is involved with left ventricular noncompaction—a condition where hearts are spongy, and the muscle doesn’t become thick and solid, leading to inherited cardiomyopathy.

Every gift you make to our Riley research makes a difference. I’ll end by stealing a quote from Dane that sums up why my lab and I work tirelessly to understand heart abnormalities and why my wife and I are both proud Riley Society members: “Kids like me have hope because of people who give to Riley.”

Thanks to you, Hope Happens Here.

Anthony Firulli, Ph.D.

Anthony B. Firulli, Ph.D., is the Director of Cardiac Developmental Biology in the Wells Center for Pediatric Research. He also serves as the Carleton Buehl McCulloch Professor of Pediatrics for the IU School of Medicine.

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