A central problem in molecular cell biology and tissue engineering is the understanding of tissue formation processes. Understanding this process and controlling it is critical for treating a broad spectrum of pathological conditions (e.g. diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hepatic failure and heart failure) as well as alleviating the current shortage of donor tissue necessary for tissue repair and transplant. Generally, formation of tissue is carried out on at least two levels: 1) cell differentiation and 2) interactions between cells and their matrix. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) have unique characteristics that render them a powerful tool for studying this question. First, they are capable of renewing themselves for long time periods through cell division and second they can be induced to differentiate into all of the cell types that constitute the body, suggesting that patient-specific stem cell population may become a reality. However, the current challenge is devising efficient protocols for controlling differentiation to produce large numbers of specialized cell populations in high purity.
To unlock the full therapeutic potential of these cells, we utilize concepts in materials science and stem cell bioengineering synergistically to analyze and control the complex process of hESCs/iPSCs differentiation into mesoderm. We develop inter- and intra-cellular microenvironments favorable for tissue differentiation. These engineered environments will serve as a platform for fundamental research in tissue development, disease mechanisms, drug testing and hold potential for in situ tissue regeneration applications.
Current research in our lab is focused on addressing the challenges of cardiac tissue engineering in in vitro environments. Our three primary research areas are:
- Using protein delivery to direct iPSCs differentiation into the cardiovascular lineages
- Mimicking the cardiac niche
- Developing iPSC-derived tissue constructs for cardiac tissue repair and replacement