August 29, 2013

WPI Gets NIH Grant For Heart Therapy Research

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute working on therapies to heal cardiac muscle damage have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the school announced today.

The five-year, $1.94-million grant is part of NIH's Research Project Grant program and will be led by Glenn Gaudette , associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI. Gaudette will be collaborating with George Pins, also associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, and Dr. Michael Laflamme, associate professor of pathology at the University of Washington.

The research focuses on using biopolymer microthreads to deliver stem cells to hearts that have been damaged by heart attack or chronic disease, promoting muscle regeneration. The microthreads are about the width of a human hair and can be braided into cable-like structures that mimic natural connective tissues, WPI said. They were first developed in Pins' lab as a potential tool for repairing torn anterior cruciate ligaments, or ACL, in the knee, and were transformed by Gaudette and Pins into biological sutures that can be used to stitch stem cells directly into wound sites and damaged tissues.

Cardiac muscle is damaged during a heart attack because vessels that deliver blood and oxygen to the heart get choked off. The damaged muscle scars becomes rigid and unable to contract, which decreases the heart's ability to pump blood. Gaudette and his team hope to use adult stem cells to transform the scarred tissue into working heart muscle and get their cell therapy closer to human trials over the next five years.

"Earning this gold-standard, competitive award from the National Institutes of Health is a wonderful affirmation of the work professors Gaudette and Pins are doing, and the importance of the collaborative model of research our faculty are pursuing," said WPI Provost Eric Overström. "Over the past 10 years WPI has invested strategically in life sciences and bioengineering programs because the convergence of biology and engineering will enable a range of new therapies and medical devices that will improve human health."

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