Mending broken hearts, one cell at a time

23 February 2018
Nona Farbehi and Dr Ralph Patrick are interested in fixing broken hearts – hearts that have been injured during a Myocardial Infarction, or heart attack. Researchers at the Sydney-based Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, in Professor Richard Harvey’s lab, they are studying how the cells of the heart, including stem cells, might be orchestrated to repair damaged heart tissue.

In Australia alone, heart attacks claim 23 lives a day and there is one heart attack every 10 minutes. In 2011, Professor  Harvey’s lab identified and characterised a new population of adult cardiac stem cells, that are important players in cardiac repair. 

Nona and Ralph are working with their teams to develop better treatments for heart failure and are studying all the cells, including stem cells, that orchestrate repair of the heart. 

To promote their life-changing research, Nona and Ralph have entered a video into the Universities Australia Pitch It Clever competition. Universities Australia challenges researchers to talk up their research in a 1-2-minute video, which should aim to get leaders from across the country to become champions for the research. Videos will be shortlisted by a panel of Vice-Chancellors and then shown at Universities Australia’s annual Higher Education Conference for conference delegates to vote on.

The winner of the shortlisting process will receive the Vice-Chancellors’ Award, which includes a prize of $2500. 

Nona Farbehi and Dr Ralph Patrick are using a ground breaking technology called single cell RNA sequencing, which allows them to identify all the different cell subtypes involved in healthy and diseased hearts. Integrating computational biology into their research enables them to understand the relationships between cells, and to model and visualise differentiation from one cell type into another.
Their hope is that these discoveries will lead to better outcomes for people with heart disease. 

Nona Farbehi and Dr Ralph Patrick are members the Developmental And Stem Cell Biology lab, which focuses on the development, function and regeneration of the mammalian heart, and the different layers of information – developmental, cellular, molecular, genetic and epigenetic – that guide these processes. 

Universities Australia is the peak body representing Australia's universities. 

Nona Farbehi
is a PhD student with Stem Cells Australia; Dr Ralph Patrick is an Early Career Researcher.