The heart cannot regenerate muscle tissue after a heart attack has killed part of the muscle wall, and that dead tissue can strain surrounding muscle, leading to a lethal heart enlargement.
To prevent this heart failure and restore heart function, UAB researchers led by Biomedical Engineering Chair Jianyi “Jay” Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., as well as personnel at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Duke University, will work to create a bioengineered, human heart-tissue patch that is large, standardized and highly functional. This preclinical work will be supported by a seven-year, $8 million grant just awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The research hub is led Zhang, Timothy Kamp, M.D., of Wisconsin and Nenad Bursac, Ph.D., of Duke. Their teams in this cooperative effort will work with individual cells and bioengineered patches made up of many cells. They will test the bioengineered cells in mice and the bioengineered patches in pigs.
The goal is to bring cardiac tissue engineering therapies into the clinic for human use by the end of the grant. Ischemic heart disease from restricted blood flow and oxygen starvation is a leading cause of death in the United States. One in every seven deaths in the United States results from coronary artery disease.
“At the end of seven years, we will be ready for clinical trials,” Zhang said.
Zhang is the T. Michael and Gillian Goodrich Endowed Chair of Engineering Leadership at UAB in addition to being the chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint department of the UAB School of Medicine and School of Engineering. Kamp is a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and co-director of the university’s Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. Bursac is professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University.
A group of UAB engineers has gained wide recognition in recent years for its work on building freezers that can maintain extreme cold temperatures in space. Now that same group has refined its focus to tackle a new challenge— designing a rapid-freeze unit that could potentially influence the types of science performed in space.
The Engineering and Innovative Technology Development (EITD) team in the School of Engineering recently received a pair of new contracts from NASA worth a combined $3.6 million to develop rapid-freeze technology and hardware for use on missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
The contract seems like a natural fit for EITD, which has worked with NASA for more than 10 years developing the high-tech cold-stowage units MERLIN, GLACIER, and Polar—all of which are currently in use aboard the ISS. However, EITD director Lee Moradi, Ph.D., says the ability to rapidly freeze biological samples requires a fundamentally different approach, and UAB was one of several “high-profile” research entities that submitted proposals.
“The capability to rapidly freeze biological samples on the ISS to preserve the microgravity effects has long been a priority,” Moradi explains. “To freeze a biological sample in normal, ground-based research, a scientist will dip the sample into liquid nitrogen. They don’t maintain liquid nitrogen stores on the ISS, so the intent of the NRA (NASA Research Announcement) was to find a safe, efficient alternative.”
As part of its Frontiers of Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering Seminar Series, the Department of Biomedical Engineering welcomed Victor J. Dzau, M.D., President of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and an expert in cardiovascular medicine and genetics on Friday.
Dzau presented a lecture titled “Rebuilding the Failing Heart: Bypassing Roadblocks in Cardiac Cell Therapy, in which he discussed the current state of the field and acknowledged the potential for breakthroughs at UAB under the leadership of BME chair Jay Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.
Dzau also conducted a question-and-answer session following the lecture.
Upcoming SpaceX Launch to Take UAB Hardware to the Space Station
On Friday, representatives from the group that designed those units will attend a ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to accept a pair of NASA Group Achievement Awards—one for the team's work on the Polar project, and another for its role with the ISS Cold Stowage team for providing “exceptional hardware development, engineering, integration, and operation of cold stowage assets supporting research utilization of the International Space Station.”
The awards put the spotlight on UAB's Engineering and Innovative Technology Development (EITD) team, a little-known but highly accomplished part of the School of Engineering that has been producing high-quality equipment for space-related research for more than a decade.
“These awards are a well-deserved testament to the excellent work done by Dr. Lee Moradi and the EITD team over an extended period of time,” says Iwan Alexander, Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Engineering. “This is a reflection of the team’s ability to not only design and build high-quality specialized hardware, but also to provide the critical support necessary to the success of space-flight experiments.”