Washington University in St Louis (WUSTL) has just received a $2M research grant that will go towards combating a disorder which afflicts, often fatally, nearly 5.8 million Americans each year: heart failure. Heart failure is one of the leading causes of death in the US and although many promising drugs have been introduced over the years, we have yet to find a definitive treatment for the variety of cases that doctors encounter. This $2M NIH award wil go to a team of WUSTL scientists for basic research that will contribute to our understanding of heart disease and ideally lead to more effective treatment. The end goal of this research project is the design and construction of artificial tissue models of the heart, which will allow scientists to more quickly and efficiently test new drugs.
A starting point for these WUSTL researchers is seeking to understand the role of myofibroblasts in heart disease. Myofibroblasts are role-switching cells that reproduce rapidly in injured or strained hearts. This conversion can occur during a heart attack for example. In response to this event, the fibroblasts change and begin secreting collagen to repair the damage quickly. Unfortunately, this repair is not a perfect fix; the myofibroblasts form a stiff scar over the damaged heart which can interfere with normal activity. Important functions like keeping a stable heart rhythm and expanding/contracting to pump blood throughout the body can be compromised by the scaring.
According to Guy M. Genin, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at WUSTL, and one of the investigators:
“There’s a lot we don’t understand about what these cells do in the heart. We think that a therapy that would control the number and properties of myofibroblasts in the heart might be useful, but we don’t know that for sure, nor do we know how to reverse the transition to this cell phenotype once it has occurred.”
In order to study these tissues more closely, researchers created model tissue in Eliot Elson's lab in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics department at WUSTL's School of Medicine. To make these test tissues, they pull fibroblasts and muscle cells out of the hearts of fertilized chicken embryos and combine them will collagen "...to form pieces of artificial heart that beat on their own in a Petri dish," Elson says. Their plan is to learn the basic biophysics of failing heart tissue from these embryos and then move on to testing drugs on tissue models currently in the making, the models mentioned earlier in the article. Once the artificial heart tissue models are up and running, the improvement of test drugs will begin to take off and lead the way to potential treatments for heart failure.
In addition to the NIH funding, Washington University also received $3.5M as the lead agency of the Missouri-wide Washington University Heart Failure Network, in the form of a seven year grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. They will continue their groundbreaking research and their training of young scientist-physicians for the future of clinical heart failure research.
If you are a life science researcher or laboratory supplier in the St. Louis area, plan on attending the next Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. St Louis BioResearch Product Faire™ at Washington University. This life science laboratory product show and research networking event is held on the WUSTL campus. This event is an excellent opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with life science and medical science researchers and to learn about up-to-date laboratory products, science supplies and analytical equipment. If you are a researcher in the area, register for the event by clicking here. For information on exhibiting, please click here to reserve your spot in our 2013 show today.