Heart and vascular diseases are the main cause of death in the Western world and those living with these conditions face significant decreases in quality of life. The DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program uses an interdisciplinary, translational approach to investigate and develop new strategies to regenerate heart muscle, an endeavor that is important to all types of heart failure, ischemic as well as non-ischemic.
One line of research is the generation of cardiomyocytes from pluripotent cell sources, which have the ability to differentiate into all types of cardiomyocytes. These cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are derived from adult cells (for example, from skin) and are reprogrammed to behave like stem cells. To date, the field of hematology has made the greatest strides in translating stem cell therapy to the clinic. This has been achieved through the characterization of the unique set of surface markers on each cell subtype. Using this approach as an inspiration, we have outlined surface markers for many cardiomyocyte subtypes as well as their level of differentiation. We are continuing this work for all cardiomyocyte subtypes.
In collaboration with our research partners, we determined that the human heart retains a post-natal capacity to generate cardiomyocytes. This represents another line of research in which we are not only looking for the source of this generation but also ways to regulate it.
Progress in each of these projects relies on our unique competence in advanced sorting of whole cardiomyocytes and their nuclei. Single-cell analysis on a gene and protein level and advanced cell imaging are our other cornerstone techniques.
Our ultimate goal is to translate our most significant findings, which have also been confirmed in human tissues and cells, into clinical safety studies for new therapies that harness the heart’s innate regenerative capacity. To this end, our clinical team is laying the foundations for multicenter trials that focus on regenerative and anti-inflammatory approaches to cardiovascular therapy. These trials will include first-in-human safety trials for regenerative therapies designed by our basic science side of the program.
Additionally, we aim to repurpose drugs approved to treat other conditions as therapies for heart disease. By using drugs that have passed vital safety trials for treating other diseases, this approach can reduce the significant amount of time and money required to bring new therapies into the clinic.