Making History: Liz Heintz is the First LSU Kinesiology Student to receive a F31 Fellowship

May 29, 2024

LSU Kinesiology’s Liz Heintz is determined to #geauxchangelives through her dedication to saving lives.

Heintz, currently a PhD Candidate in Kinesiology at LSU and in the Integrated Physiology and Molecular Medicine Lab at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, was recently approved for funding for a NIH F31 Predoctoral Fellowship.

This is the first time a student from LSU Kinesiology has been awarded an F31.

Selection for F31 Fellowships is highly rigorous and goes to the most devoted of PhD candidates. According to the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies, “The NIH created the F31 award to provide promising predoctoral students an opportunity to receive mentored research training while they complete their dissertation research on human health-related topics.”

“I am incredibly honored to receive this award,” Heintz said. “It marks a significant achievement as I begin my scientific career. There was a tremendous amount of work that went into this award, and it is exciting to see it come to fruition. I am immensely grateful to my mentors for their guidance throughout this process and for their encouragement of my continued academic development.”

Heintz graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Louisiana Lafayette. During this time, Heintz had the opportunity to train at Pennington Biomedical under the mentorship of Dr. John Kirwan. This experience helped her to recognize her passion for research with the purpose of treating and preventing metabolic disease and led to her decision to pursue a doctoral degree. In addition, Heintz continues to be mentored at LSU by Dr. Brian Irving, Professor in the LSU School of Kinesiology.

“In pursuit of her PhD, Liz’s research clearly aligns with our mission to discover the mechanisms behind obesity and to treat its related diseases,” Kirwan said. “She is proving to be a dedicated student and is committed to the pursuit of knowledge and new insights. I am proud of her accomplishments to date and can say with certainty that she is truly deserving of the F31 award from NIH.”

This F31 fellowship was awarded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Heintz has been awarded 3 years of funding beginning in August 2024.

Heintz’s research is focused on better understanding molecular drivers of metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD), specifically through the regulation of mitochondrial transporters. Progression of MASLD is the fastest growing cause of cirrhosis and liver cancers, but there are currently no approved pharmacotherapies targeted for MASLD.

Mitochondria are the primary organelles involved in ATP production for cellular energy, and mitochondria are critical to the metabolic function of the liver. In cases of liver disease, mitochondrial function declines, making mitochondrial regulators potential treatments for MASLD.

The goal of Heintz’s project is to identify the role of mitochondrial transporter SLC25a25, which regulates ATP transport, in the onset and progression of MASLD. The long-term goal is to provide conceptual framework for the development of targeted pharmacotherapies for MASLD, which could impact clinical care and outcomes for patients with liver disease.

Additional outstanding accomplishments by Heintz include co-authorship on 7 publications and presentations at numerous scientific meetings, including Keystone and the American Diabetes Association.

About CHSE 
The College of Human Sciences & Education (CHSE) is a nationally accredited division of Louisiana State University. The college is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Information Studies, the School of Kinesiology the School of Leadership & Human Resource Development, and the School of Social Work. CHSE has two model demonstration schools, the Early Childhood Education Laboratory Preschool, enrolling birth to age four and the University Laboratory School enrolling Kindergarten through grade 12. The college also has four centers and institutes: the Early Childhood Education Institute, the Healthy Aging Research Center, the Leadership Development Institute, and Social Research & Evaluation Center. The college is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is committed to improving quality of life across the lifespan. 
Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education website.

About SOK 
The LSU School of Kinesiology (SOK) advances the understanding of physical activity, sport, and health to optimize the quality of life for diverse populations through excellence in teaching, learning, discovery, and engagement. SOK offers a BS, MS, Online MS, PhD, and two certificate options. Graduates go on to successful careers in the health and fitness industry, corporate wellness, sport agencies and businesses, athletic administration, and K-12 educational settings. SOK is part of the College of Human Sciences & Education. 
Visit the School of Kinesiology website.