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Growing heart organoids reveals regenerative potential

28 August 2017
UQ PhD student Holly Voges

Holly Voges is a PhD student in the Muscle Tissue Engineering laboratory at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on developing a laboratory model of acute heart injury. Holly was first author on a paper published in the journal Development that explores this new way of investigating heart regeneration and received the Best Early Career Researcher Publication award at the 2017 Stem Cells Australia Retreat.

Heart disease is the leading cause of mortality around the world. The adult human heart has a very limited regenerative after injury.

There have been a number of different animal models utilised in biomedical research to study heart regeneration in regenerative organisms such as zebrafish, axolotyl, tadpole and newt. Recent evidence in mice and rats also suggests that the mammalian heart exhibits a regenerative capacity, but it is lost shortly after birth. However, human hearts and those from other species have many differences in both biology and function, so it is important to also study cardiac regeneration in models of human heart tissue.

To better understand how human hearts function, Holly and her colleagues have used human embryonic stem cells to create human cardiac organoids that are very similar to immature human heart tissue. They developed a technique to create an injury to model a heart attack and studied the repair processes in the human cardiac organoid.

The researchers found that in this controlled setting outside of the body, the immature human heart tissue is able to create new cardiac cells and return to normal levels of contractile function (that is the ability to beat) after two weeks.

This study was the first to characterise a regenerative response in human heart tissue following injury, and was published earlier this year in Development. Interestingly, they found that the regenerative response occurred in the absence of a populous cardiac cell type called endothelial cells.

Holly now plans to focused on the influence of endothelial cells on this regenerative response and the function of the heart tissue.

Stem Cells Australia's Early Career Research commitee selected Holly's paper as the Best ECR publication from across the network: Voges et al., Development of a human cardiac organoid injury model reveals innate regenerative potential. (2017) Development 144(6):1118-1127.