Profile: Scientist, University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Department: Surgery, University of Ottawa
Coronary artery disease is the most important killer of Canadians. Despite major advances in therapy, there are still a significant number of patients identified with the disease who die of it. This is because over the long term, current treatments are not perfect. They do not cure the disease and they can fail over time. In recent years, cell therapy has emerged as a promising new approach for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. For example, there is much optimism that this approach will one day constitute the best way to treat patients with blocked arteries around the heart. However, the science behind it is quite complex, and translation of the research findings into the clinic is likely to require strategies to enhance the function of the therapeutic cells, and the patient’s response to them. With this in mind, tissue engineering may offer one way to help direct the repair process. Tissue engineering can be described as a combination of cells, engineering and materials methods for use as replacement tissues (either temporary or permanent) for damaged or diseased body parts. The lab is also interested in how the body’s own stem cells respond when the heart is damaged, and how to enhance this response. Strategies to improve the host stem cell response include the use of biomaterials designed to mobilize and recruit these repair cells. Other research being performed in the lab includes the investigation of biomaterial scaffolds and stem/progenitor cell transplantation for promoting angiogenesis in the heart in order to restore blood flow to damaged tissue and improve its function. In addition, projects are underway to develop therapies to treat diabetes and its associated cardiovascular complications. It is hoped that this research will constitute a major step towards making cell and tissue engineering therapies more effective for patients with heart disease.