July, 2009UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers Drs. Jay Schneider, Joseph Hill and Eric Olson have been awarded a $2 million grant from the American Heart Association to study the development and mechanisms of generating new cardiac muscle cells.
UT Southwestern was one of only three institutions in the country to receive the highly competitive award, which will establish an American Heart Association-Jon Holden DeHaan Foundation Cardiac Myogenesis Research Center.
Each center will conduct a number of basic science research projects to learn more about how cardiac muscle cells develop and work together. The AHA grant provides funding through 2012.
"Our grant submission involved a small-molecule drug that we discovered by screening the UT Southwestern chemical library with cardiac stem cells," said Dr. Schneider, assistant professor of internal medicine. "Original studies of that drug were done in cultured stem cells, but we have now shown that it actually works as a drug in the adult heart by targeting a rare population of native cardiac stem cells and by activating muscle genes in these cells."
Dr. Hill, chief of cardiology, said the finding could lead to treatments that activate stem cells within the heart to emerge as functional muscle cells.
"We are hopeful that opportunities presented to our researchers through the funding provided by this grant will lead to improved outcomes for heart attack and heart failure patients," he said.
The UT Southwestern researchers said their investigations could significantly help advance the understanding of stem cells' role in heart disease and repair, leading to new ways to care for patients with heart attacks or congestive heart failure by stimulating heart cell regeneration.
"The goal is to use small molecules and microRNAs (ribonucleic acids) as probes to understand the mechanistic barriers that prevent the human heart from repairing itself after injury," said Dr. Schneider. "By doing so, we hope to develop new therapeutics based on small molecules and microRNAs that will overcome these barriers and induce the human heart to regenerate after injury."
Dr. Olson, chairman of molecular biology and director of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Center for Basic Research in Cancer and the Nearburg Family Center for Basic and Clinical Research in Pediatric Oncology, said the award will unite researchers from several fields to attack the problem. For instance, Dr. Schneider worked collaboratively with Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT Southwestern, during the initial research for the grant proposal.
"This grant from the AHA will enable us to translate basic discoveries in the laboratory into new therapeutic approaches for improving function of the failing heart. We intend to take an interdisciplinary approach and draw from the expertise of basic scientists and clinicians to achieve this goal," Dr. Olson said.
His research focuses on genes that control development of the heart in embryos, and how those genes can help repair damaged adult hearts.
Other Cardiac Myogenesis Research Centers receiving the grant are the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota.
The Jon Holden DeHaan Foundation of Naples, Fla., has a long history of funding AHA cardiovascular research and cumulatively has contributed almost $5 million for this purpose. The American Heart Association-Jon Holden DeHaan Foundation Cardiac Myogenesis Research Center Program is the most ambitious partnership undertaken by the two organizations.
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