We interviewed American Fulbright Alumni Danielle Medina-Hernandez, who recently visited Denmark to present the findings of her Fulbright research project.

Danielle spent 6 months in Denmark from February 2021 to August 2021 at University of Copenhagen’s Biomedical Institute while she was studying for her Master’s at Wake Forest University. In December 2021, the American Fulbright Alumni was invited back to Denmark to present the findings she made. Read more about her research project and her stay in Denmark below.

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Danielle Medina-Hernandez

During her stay in Denmark, she researched CMR and 1H-MRS Assessment of Early Tissue and Metabolic Changes Post-Myocardial Infarction at the Biomedical Institute.

Can you please summarize your project?
The long-term effects of a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, particularly heart failure, have received considerable attention from the medical and research community. In contrast, the early sub-clinical tissue and metabolic changes occurring within the first few seconds to minutes after an acute myocardial infarction, remain poorly understood. At the University of Copenhagen’s Biomedical Institute, under the mentorship of Professor Henrik El Ali and Professor Thomas Jespersen, we developed a pilot study to understand the immediate contractility changes after a myocardial infarction. I took the lead on a pilot study that used cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess the contractility changes that occur immediately after a myocardial infarction. Immediately after inducing a myocardial infarction in rats, we transferred the rats to the MRI to obtain images of the heart and be able to study the anatomical and functional changes. We then sacrificed the rats and collected their hearts for histopathological analysis.

What was it like being a Fulbright student in Denmark, working on your project?
The meaning of home was redefined by my study abroad experience in Copenhagen in 2016. Influenced by my study abroad experience and the cutting-edge cardiovascular research on-going at the University of Copenhagen, I applied for a Fulbright grant. When I arrived in January, however, Copenhagen appeared much different from the Copenhagen I studied abroad in. Arriving in the middle of a lockdown certainly changed the dynamic but that did not stop me from making the most of my experience. I took advantage of my first month working remotely to read papers and study for my National Animal Experimentation Legislation in Denmark examination to be able to work with animals.
Once I was able to go into the lab, with the help of other postdocs in the group, I learned a variety of skills such as immunohistochemistry staining and surgical procedures on rats such as performing a tracheotomy, myocardial infarction, and heart extraction. These skills were all useful for my project. I was also thankful that as the lockdown restrictions loosened up, I was able to attend my Statistics and Data Analysis for Human Biologists course in person and work closely with the students on our course project.

One of my most memorable and enriching moments was attending the Danish Cardiovascular Academy Summer Meeting at the Sandbjerg Estate. It was extremely interesting to learn about the cardiovascular research going on throughout Denmark. During this conference, I worked with two other American Ph.D. students to give a presentation on the differences between American and Danish graduate education from our perspective. When I wasn’t working on my project, I was attending my Danish language course or having a hyggelig time with friends and exploring the gems of Denmark.

"I am extremely thankful for Fulbright Denmark’s efforts to make this experience possible during a global pandemic."

- Danielle Medina-Hernandez, Fulbrighter 2021

You recently came back to Denmark to present your findings. What was this experience like?
I presented my research results to my supervisors, Prof. Henrik El Ali and Prof. Thomas Jespersen, as well as other experts with cardiac magnetic resonance imaging. It was great to receive feedback from experts who use this technology in the clinic with actual patients. This was important to be able to learn how to build on and improve the pilot study. We discussed the future direction of the project such as incorporating more animals, optimizing the setup, and ultimately how to translate the results from our pilot study to the clinic. I was also happy to talk about the research project I am currently undertaking at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research. While I was in Copenhagen, I also took advantage of that time to reconnect with the friends I made during my stay. I am thankful for the lifelong friends I have made and have no doubt I will always return to Copenhagen.

How did your stay as a Fulbright student shape you as a researcher?
Through the challenges and trial and error of experiments and in learning how to adapt to living in a city with a different culture, I learned that progress may not always be linear but the takeaway from it always is. This experience has ultimately helped me grow, provided me with a solid foundation, and reaffirmed my passion and commitment to cardiovascular research and the global community. I am extremely thankful for Fulbright Denmark’s efforts to make this experience possible during a global pandemic. And, I am grateful to my supervisors and the postdocs for their support.

If you want to apply for a Fulbright grant and study in Denmark, please read more here or contact Fulbright Denmark’s Program Coordinator, Nina Foldager Jung.