Research

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Each year nearly 900,000 people in North America alone suffer from myocardial infarction. Tissue engineering may offer alternative treatment options or suitable models for studies of normal and pathological cardiac tissue function in vitro. Conventional tissue engineering approaches are limited by inadequate oxygen supply, lack of physical stimuli and absence of multiple cell types characteristic of the native myocardium.

My research program consists of several different projects that all fall under the umbrella of cardiac tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. We are focused on pursuing molecular mechanisms governing the formation of contractile cardiac tissue in vitro as well as on practical strategies for treatment of myocardial infarction and heart failure through development of new biomaterials. We pursue the research programs alone (e.g. advanced bioreactors and cell tri-culture) or in collaboration with other PIs (e.g. microfluidic separation of heart cells).

Tissue Engineering of Cardiac Patches

The key projects in this area are focused on: 1) designing advanced bioreactors for cardiac tissue engineering capable of integrating mechanical and electrical stimuli with perfusion, 2) developing strategies to engineer vascularized myocardium based on the tri-culture of key heart cell types and 3) using the engineered cardiac tissue as a model system for cardiac cell therapy or drug testing.

Injectable Biomaterials

Cell injection into the infarcted myocardium can result in functional improvements, but the utility of this procedure in clinical settings is hampered by the massive death and washout of injected cells (~90%). We are working on the development of injectable hydrogels that will promote survival and localization of the cardiomyocytes injected into the infarcted myocardium. The hydrogels are functionalized with specific peptides capable of promoting the survival of cardiomyocytes.

Microfabricated Systems for Cell Culture

In vivo multiple physical and biochemical stimuli act in concert to determine cell fate and phenotype. In order to engineer functional cardiac patches and develop advanced bioreactors we need to understand interactive effects of multiple physical stimuli. We are currently developing microfabricated cell culture systems with built-in electrodes and precisely defined groove and ridge heights for simultaneous application of field stimulation and contact guidance cues.