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Dr. Åsa Gustafsson

Cardiovascular Research

Åsa Gustafsson

Åsa Gustafsson, Ph.D.

Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine


(858) 822-5569

Research Summary: Cardiovascular Disease

Dr. Gustafsson is interested in understanding the molecular pathways that regulate the life and death of cardiac myocytes. Activation of cell death pathways is a common occurrence in cardiovascular disease and contributes to the development of heart failure. Using genetic and molecular biology approaches, Dr. Gustafsson is elucidating the role that the BCL-2 proteins play in regulating mitochondrial function and autophagy in myocardial cells. The BCL-2 family members are pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins that regulate the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis in cells, including those of the myocardium.

Another area of interest is to understand the mechanism(s) of late onset cardiotoxicity of anthracyclines. While anthracyclines are among the most effective chemotherapeutic agents commonly used in both children and adults, they are problematic because they are associated with cardiotoxicity. Heart failure may manifest years (>10 yrs) after initial exposure to the anthracyline. Cardiac stem cells provide a mechanism for minor repair and ongoing cell turnover in the heart. She has discovered that anthracyclines impair stem cell function in the young heart, resulting in a heart that is more susceptible to stress. Additional research examines how anthracylines interfere with stem cell function and whether stem cell can be used in cell replacement therapy to prevent cardiotoxicity. 

Academic Achievements


B.S. in Molecular Biology (1996) UCSD; Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, Dept. of Pharmacology (2001) UCSD; Postdoctoral Fellowship (2005) Scripps Research Institute. 

Awards and Honors:

Elected Fellow of the International Society for Heart Research (2016); ISHR Outstanding Investigator Award (2014); AHA Established Investigator Award (2014); Elected Fellow of the American Heart Association (2010); Keith and Eva Killam Memorial Award, Western Pharmacological Society (2010); AHA BCVS Outstanding Early-Career Investigator Award Finalist (2008); AHA Scientist Development Grant (2007); Young Investigator Award Winner, International Society for Heart Research American Section (2005); TRDRP New Investigator Award (2005); 

Leadership Experience:

Vice Chair Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program; Co-Chair of Keystone Meeting (2017; AHA BCVS Leadership Committee member; Chair, AHA BCVS Early Career Committee, Chair AHA BCVS Marcus Award Committee, Co-Chair 2015 AHA BCVS Meeting; ISHR Council member; ISHR Executive Committee member; ISHR Treasurer.


  • Principles of Pharmacology & Physiology (SPPS 247).
  • Contemporary Topics in Pharmacology (SPPS 218B).

Key Contributions to Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • Identified the mitochondrial death protein Bnip3 as a contributor to myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury.
  • Elucidated the importance of autophagy in removing damaged mitochondrial in cardiac cells.
  • Discovered a role for anthracycline-mediated stem cell dysfunction in late onset cardiotoxicity.

Selected Recent Publications (view more)

Potential Collaborative Programs with the Pharmaceutical Industry

  • Expertise in mitochondrial function and cell death signaling pathways in cardiac cells.
  • Broad array of molecular and cellular laboratory techniques and in vivo mouse models of heart failure.