Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in America. It was reported by the American Heart Association in 2013 that over 7 million Americans survived a heart attack resulting in 5 million Americans suffering from heart failure. After a heart attack the heart repair itself by replacing healthy contractile tissue with stiff scar tissue that inhibits the pumping function of the heart. As there are limited options to treat heart failure researchers have examined cell based therapies to restore function lost during a heart attack.
A limitation to current cell based therapies is the mode used to deliver cells to damaged myocardium Current delivery methods are limited to intramyocardial injection and transendocardial injection resulting in low engraftment rates of 10 and 19%, respectively. Our lab has recently developed a novel method to deliver cells using fibrin microthread based sutures. Cells are able to be seeded onto the fibrin sutures and delivered to the heart with a 64% engraftment rate.
Much of the labs work is focused on techniques to improve the fibrin microthread technology and examining the functional benefits of delivering cells to damaged cardiac tissue.
More recently, the Myocardial Regeneration Lab has started working on cross kingdom collaborations with other groups at WPI, as well as groups at University of Wisconsin Madison (known for their expertise in stem cell research) and Arkansas State University (known for their expertise in plant product biomanufacturing). The idea behind this research is to blur the lines between research being conducted on medicine and plants. By crossing the plant and animal systems, new solutions could be effectively engineered for a wide variety of immerging disciplines such as regenerative medicine. For example, the major limiting factor affecting the clinical translation of tissue engineering is the lack of viable vascular networks in engineered tissues. Current fabrication techniques are not able to accurately and effectively design the microvasculature seen in areas such as capillary beds. With that in mind, we have started to look for inspiration from the plant kingdom to solve this dilemma. Plant vasculature, like mammalian, supports fluid transport of molecules throughout the entirety of the leaf. This transport is accomplished through a different mechanism in the plant as opposed to mammalian vessels but the structures are incredibly similar, especially the microvasculature. We have started to try and use leaves as prevascularized scaffolds for tissue engineering. We have been focused mostly on cardiac applications due to the vascular density found within leaves as well as it being a strength of our lab but our collaborators have started to look into other tissue types such as bone.