During the month of February, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will be illuminated with pulsing red lights as part of the American Heart Association’s effort to remind people that heart disease is the number one killer of women in America.

According to Paul Martin, assistant vice president for administration, Rensselaer has joined with more than 35 other Capital Region organizations that are lighting up their buildings to show their #commitment to fighting this killer disease.

“As part of our long-term #commitment to the terrific work done by the American Heart Association, we are delighted to take part in this effort,” Martin said. “We are hopeful that many institutions and individuals throughout the Capital Region will see EMPAC and other buildings lit up at night and take a moment to think about heart disease and how they can support the work of the association.”

The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer interweaves life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering into the fields of biotechnology and medicine, opening exciting new pathways to innovation and discovery. The American Heart Association has sponsored the work of many CBIS researchers, including Douglas Swank, associate professor of biological sciences. In Swank’s lab, researchers are studying Drosophila (commonly known as the fruit fly) to unravel some of the biggest mysteries of the human heart.

Swank has received funding from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health to seek the molecular causes of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or enlarged heart disease. The funding allows Swank and his team to study stretch activation, a unique physiological characteristic shared by the muscles that cause Drosophila wings and human hearts to beat efficiently.

“Our goal is to try to understand the molecular mechanism behind this disease so that we can help develop better treatments,” Swank said.