May 4, 2022

Libin Institute welcomes new researcher

Dr. Omid Haji-Ghassemi focuses on molecular mechanisms behind heart, skeletomuscular and neuronal diseases
Omid Haji-Ghassemi

Dr. Omid Haji-Ghassemi, PhD, is the latest researcher to join the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.

An assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary, Haji-Ghassemi is interested in uncovering the molecular mechanisms of under-studied enzymes, called kinases, which play a critical role in regulating different biological mechanisms, including the beating of our hearts.

Although these enzymes are critical to normal cardiovascular function, their dysregulation may lead to numerous diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and many heart conditions.

It’s the connection to disease that Haji-Ghassemi is especially interested in. In fact, the goal of his work is to develop novel therapeutic tools that alter the activities of the kinases underlying disease.

Both Haji-Ghassemi and his mom have congenital heart conditions. Haji-Ghassemi’s condition causes a slower than normal heart rate (bradycardia) and he occasionally has exercise induced heart flutters, yet his exact condition isn’t known.

“I am interested in learning about my own heart condition and other patients who may have similar or worse symptoms,” he says. “I suspect that you would need to sequence all genes related to muscle contraction and understand the epigenetic changes that occur during stress to fully understand it.

He explains he is especially interested in how stress conditions trigger arrhythmias, as a way of preventing irregular heartbeats, arrhythmias, from occurring.

Haji-Ghassemi, who grew up in Norway, completed his undergraduate and PhD degrees at the University of Victoria, in B.C. He then moved to Vancouver for his post-doctoral work at the University of British Columbia.

It was during this time that he became interested in the interaction between kinases and ion channel receptors in the heart and other muscle cells. These receptors form a molecular gateway that opens and closes in response to electrical, chemical or mechanical signals, allowing cellular communications that are important in the regulation of the heartbeat.

Haji-Ghassemi completed his postdoctoral work at the University of British Columbia before joining University of Calgary faculty in 2022.

He is currently setting up his lab, which uses structural biology tools, like X-ray crystallography and single particle cryo-electron microscopy that allow researchers to view the structure of the proteins at a high-resolution.

Haji-Ghassemi is looking forward to potential collaborations within the Libin Institute and will be taking on several students in the coming months.

Learn more about Haji-Ghassemi’s lab here.