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IBBME Special Lecture: Sara Nunes Vasconcelos
July 8 @ 11:00 am - 12:00 pm
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Tissue engineering strategies for cardiovascular regeneration.
Cardiovascular diseases such as myocardial infarction (i.e. heart attack) are the leading cause of hospitalization in western countries and represent a significant burden for the health care system. During myocardial infarction the blood vessels that feed the heart muscle get blocked leading to the cessation of blood flow and the death of the heart muscle contractile cells called cardiomyocytes. This leads to loss of heart function which is caused by an inability of properly pumping blood.
A potential cure for patients with myocardial infarction lies in cell-based therapies where the cardiac tissue can be regenerated by replacing the lost cardiomyocytes and re-establishing a functional vasculature. However, there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome for successful cardiac tissue regeneration to be achieved. My lab is taking a stepwise approach to overcome the main hurdles in tissue regeneration in order to generate a functional vasculature and replace the lost cardiomyocytes.
To regenerate the vasculature, we utilize different neovascularization strategies such as ready-made adipose-derived microvessels. These vessels connect with the host circulation and form a blood-perfused neovasculature when implanted in collagen hydrogels in vivo. Because these ready-made microvessels can be harvested from the patient’s own adipose tissue they do not require the use of immunosuppression to avoid rejection. Utilizing this neovascularization model, we are investigating the involvement of perivascular cells and blood flow in the formation of mature and functional vascular networks in vivo.
To effectively replace the cardiomyocytes lost during myocardial infarction, we are studying the cues that lead to human stem cell-derived-cardiomyocyte maturation. In addition, we are taking advantage of the ability of the adipose-derived microvessels to rapidly connect with the host circulation to form pre-vascularized cardiac tissues for transplantation. Our goal is to accelerate vascularization and provide efficient and sustained delivery of nutrients and oxygen to support the survival of transplanted cardiomyocytes and to promote cardiac regeneration.
Dr. Sara Nunes de Vasconcelos obtained her PhD from the University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. During her postdoctoral training at University of Louisville, she developed and characterized a neovascularization technique that relies on the utilization of adipose-derived microvessels in collagen hydrogels. She also trained as a postdoc at the IBBME, University of Toronto, where she established a platform to promote the maturation of human embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. In 2012, Sara became an Assistant Scientist at the Division of Experimental Therapeutics at University Health Network. Throughout her career she has published multiple high impact manuscripts. The quality of her research is highlighted by the numerous awards she received, including the Biomedical Engineering Society Innovation and Career Development Award and the IBBME best paper award. Even at this early stage in her career as an independent investigator, she has repeatedly been successful in obtaining peer-review funding to support her research from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the American Heart Association.