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    Long-term collaborative partnership is at the “heart” of a thriving cardiovascular research lab at USC

    Dr. Camilla Wenceslau's love of research was born out of a deep interest in her undergraduate study of biology at the College of Sciences and Letters in São Paulo, Brazil. After graduating with her bachelor’s in 2005, it was clear that continuing research would be a good fit for her investigative mind.

    “I started really liking research, specifically hypertension,” said Wenceslau, referring to her early graduate school days.

    My main two research interests are focused on hypertension: to understand vascular dysfunction in hypertension, and how to treat and cure hypertension.

    Dr. Camilla Wenceslau, on her research through Cam Squared Labs
    Portrait of Dr. Wenceslau in her lab at USC's School of Medicine.

    Wenceslau’s active scholarship and approachable personality gave her opportunities to pursue research and training abroad; first, at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain, during her graduate studies. After receiving her Ph.D. in human physiology at the University of São Paulo, in 2012, she took a postdoctoral position in the United States with Dr. Clinton Webb at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia.

    In Augusta, Wenceslau met Cameron McCarthy—a physiology Ph.D. student from New Zealand. McCarthy's journey into research began with a love for physical education and health, but over time he realized that perhaps being a PE teacher was not the career path for him.

    “I've always had this idea that I wanted to help improve people's health,” said McCarthy, “Specifically cardiovascular health. During my undergrad, I studied to be a PE teacher, because that's what I thought I wanted to do—I could help kids improve their health.”

    But that path did not prove to be a good fit; “That’s why I decided to continue my education and find out what I really enjoyed, and I found that with research,” he added.

    Knowing that he wanted to go to graduate school after completing his bachelor's at Appalachian State University, McCarthy decided to dig into research as a vocation. This redirection eventually landed him in Webb's lab at Augusta University's Medical College.

    McCarthy and Wenceslau first crossed paths in 2012, and their collaboration in Webb's lab provided ample opportunities for them to forge a strong bond. As a married research team, they subsequently made the decision to relocate to Ohio, embarking on independent career paths at the University of Toledo College of Medicine. In this new chapter, Dr. Wenceslau assumed the role of a tenure-track Assistant Professor, while Dr. McCarthy transitioned to a postdoctoral fellow position.

    During their time in Ohio, both researchers successfully secured independent National Institutes of Health grants—Dr. Wenceslau obtained an R01 and Dr. McCarthy a K99/R00. After three years of dedicated work in Toledo, the fruits of their research began to garner attention and they received an invitation to help establish the Cardiovascular Translational Research Center (CTRC) at the University of South Carolina's School of Medicine in Columbia, which was launched in 2021 under the guidance of their colleague, Clinton Webb.

    Drs. Wenceslau and McCarthy in their joint lab at USC's School of Medicine.
    Cam Squared Labs is currently located at the university’s Garner’s Ferry Medical Campus, with hopes of expansion in the near future.

    Thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with Dr. Webb once again, this time as leading faculty in the CTRC, McCarthy and Wenceslau eagerly anticipate the opportunity to further expand their joint laboratories—now known as Cam Squared Labs.

    The Wenceslau and McCarthy labs lead state-of-the-art research investigating novel mechanisms of vascular dysfunction in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, as well as novel therapeutic strategies. The labs contribute research presentations to the American Heart Association and American Physiological Society on their research, which has collectively advanced the field’s understanding of cardiovascular physiology, particularly in the context of hypertension.

    Wenceslau and McCarthy are both highly motivated researchers whose mutual areas of interest make them stronger as a research duo. They both lead their own teams of postdoctoral researchers, graduate and undergraduate students here at USC. The two teams possess an array of crossover skillsets and backgrounds that help support each other.

    McCarthy’s team focuses on post-translational modification of proteins while Wenceslau's team works on regenerative properties in cells, both seeking to further understand hypertension and vascular dysfunction.

    Working as a couple has similar benefits as building a team of dynamic researchers, as Wenceslau and McCarthy have done. The crossovers in each of their respective concentrations allow them to discuss ideas and help when the other person gets stuck in a problem. At the same time, not working on the exact same experiments and projects has its own balanced set of benefits.

    “He has his own space. I have my own space,” said Wenceslau, “It has a lot of benefits working as a couple for me. I don't see myself working without [McCarthy].”

    Wenceslau cites USC’s huge potential for continued growth in the area of cardiovascular research as an attraction for members of her team. Under the leadership of Webb and other accomplished researchers such as herself and McCarthy, there is room to grow and expand the scope of research in cardiovascular health.

    Cam Squared Labs are currently located at the university’s Garner’s Ferry Medical Campus; however, with new medical school buildings slated for construction in Columbia’s BullStreet district, there is room for possible growth. Expanding the research capacity of their joint labs is exciting but it has potential to change the nature of the work for these primary investigators. Moving up the career ladder means less time in the lab but more time interfacing with the broader research community.

    “When I was an assistant professor, I used to stay in the lab a lot—I used to perform experiments because I didn't have a lot of postdocs,” said Wenceslau.

    When Wenceslau was an assistant professor at the University of Toledo (2018-2021), her research was incredibly hands-on. She ran operations for the experiments and maintained lab equipment, often on her own.

    [McCarthy] and I saw the potential that South Carolina has for growth…This university has a huge potential to represent South Carolina through what we are doing here.

    Dr. Wenceslau, on coming to South Carolina for research.

    At USC, Wenceslau says she has more control over her time and gets to delegate a lot of the practical work to her team of adept researchers. This allows her, and McCarthy, to devote more of their time to connecting with other cardiovascular health researchers across campus, and across the globe, to discuss their experiment results and collaborate. They both see this connectivity as key to taking their work to new levels and potentially generating even greater benefits. They might not be in the lab as much, seeing experiments play out, but this gives them the time they need to make their work accessible to others in the field, through writing and publishing their findings.

    “We can produce more papers which is important for awareness,” said Wenceslau, “And [the papers are] high quality, because we have two brains thinking about one problem—we have different voices at the table to discuss one problem.”

    McCarthy and Wenceslau now have more time to invest in serving on committees, traveling to speaking engagements or participating in online conferences to share their work and highlight the advances being made at UCS's Cardiovascular Translational Research Center. At USC, the couple has found an incredible opportunity to grow their research and reputation at a crucial stage in their careers—boosting the reputation and reach of the university, along with their individual authority in the field. The resources available through USC, and the support of their respective research teams, mean that Wenceslau and McCarthy have more opportunities to create community amongst other investigators.

    Poised to continue mentoring the next generation of well-rounded, thoughtful and innovative researchers at USC, Wenceslau and McCarthy are happy to be living in the South again. Their life in Columbia is full, with time devoted to their children, Emma and Noah, and the community of skilled scholars in their lab.


    30 January 2024


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