Improving diagnoses and therapies for heart disease
In petri dishes in her lab at NJIT, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering is developing colonies of cardiac cells that grow chambers and pump and contract like a human heart.
Derived from stem cells, these primitive organs are helping Dr. Alice Lee study in microscopic, real-time detail how the heart repairs itself after injury. It’s research that’s critical in the fight against heart disease, which claims an estimated 2,200 Americans daily.
Dr. Lee induces a “heart attack” by damaging the tiny proto-hearts with a frozen rod. The attack mobilizes cell-based repair crews that clear the injury site of debris, and then in a second phase, recruit materials and tools from the neighboring tissue to mend the damage. By developing diseased-tissue models, she will be able to test drugs and treatments that cannot yet be used on patients and gain insights to improve diagnoses and therapies for cardiac diseases.
Earlier this year, Dr. Lee received a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance understanding of the underlying mechanisms of heart tissue repair by cell-based therapy.