Cardiology Physician-Scientist Joins JAX Genomic Medicine, UConn Health

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, Oct. 2, 2014. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)
The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, Oct. 2, 2014. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)
Dr. Travis Hinson.
Dr. Travis Hinson.

Dr. Travis Hinson, a board-certified cardiologist and researcher interested in bringing an interdisciplinary approach to the study of heart muscle diseases, will join the faculties of The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine and UConn Health on Jan. 22, 2016.

This joint appointment is the second such appointment. The first joint JAX-UConn faculty appointment was mathematician and systems biologist Reinhard Laubenbacher.

Hinson comes to JAX and UConn Health from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate, where he is an instructor in cardiovascular medicine and an associate physician treating patients with inherited forms of cardiovascular diseases, especially hypertrophic and dilated cardiomyopathies.

“I’m excited to be joining The Jackson Laboratory,” Hinson says, “with its cutting-edge vision that’s perfectly aligned with my interests in studying cardiovascular diseases on a platform of human genetics.”

He says he was attracted to “the unique opportunity to interact and collaborate with a group of outstanding geneticists who are bringing together the latest technologies and complementary expertise” to study the complex genetics of human diseases.

Charles Lee, professor and scientific director at JAX Genomic Medicine, comments, “Travis is an outstanding researcher who already has a record of moving high-impact research discoveries to the patient using a team-science model. This is precisely what we are looking for in human genetics researchers joining JAX Genomic Medicine.”

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, interim executive vice president for health affairs at UConn Health, says, “We are thrilled that Dr. Hinson is bringing his clinical and research expertise in the field of translational cardiovascular medicine to UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory.”

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, Oct. 2, 2014. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)
The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine at the Farmington campus. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Photo)

Hinson studies the genetics of cardiomyopathies, diseases of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure and ultimately death. He engineers heart-like structures – “small beating tissues” – with cells containing specific genetic mutations. To create these so-called biomimetic microtissues, Hinson “instructs” pluripotent stem cells, derived from a patient’s blood cells or by genome editing technology, to become heart cells for in vitro studies. Hinson hopes that the results of these studies may translate to new therapeutic opportunities for his patients.

The joint appointment with UConn Health and JAX is important, Hinson says, “because it allows me to build a clinical medicine practice around cardiovascular genetics. For example, I could see a patient in my clinic with a genetic cardiomyopathy, and actually study his or her disease at JAX using the cardiac microtissues, then ideally translate my research back to the patient in the form of clinical trials of new drugs. This ‘bedside-to-bench-to-bedside’ approach is the dream situation for any physician-scientist.”

Dr. Bruce T. Liang , dean of the UConn School of Medicine and director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health, says, “We are pleased to have recruited Dr. Hinson. He is a stellar physician-scientist with clinical and translational research expertise in cardiovascular genetics. His research will further expand our knowledge of the genetic components of heart diseases and help develop novel and promising therapies for patients affected by these devastating diseases in Connecticut and beyond.”

As the second joint faculty member, Hinson plans to focus on combining stem cell technology and biomimetic microtissues to establish human models for two of the most common genetic disorders of the myocardium: dilated and hypertrophic cardiomyopathies.

Hinson earned his MD from Harvard Medical School in 2007, after earning a BS in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania.

The agreement that brought The Jackson Laboratory to Connecticut was formalized in 2012, and JAX Genomic Medicine opened in October 2014 on the campus of UConn Health. Collaborative initiatives include the new Center for Single Cell Genomics.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution. Its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health.