About our research.
The mammalian heart is composed of a number of cell types including muscle cells and fibroblasts. Cardiac muscle cells are interconnected at their ends through their intercalated discs and are composed of intercellular junctions (gap junctions, desmosomes and area composita) essential for maintaining correct contraction of the heart. Cardiac fibroblasts produce and degrade extracellular matrix (ECM) components. The ECM acts as the structural network and signaling mediator in the heart.
We focus on the in vitro engineering of functional
myocardium that mimics human heart tissue for analysis of
- We differentiate human pluripotent stem cells into functional cardiomyocytes and study different genetic heart diseases (for instance Marfan syndrome) with the help of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology.
- Dysfunction may result from a complicated interaction of various cell types, thus more complex heart models are needed. Our objective is to mimic this interaction by realizing 3D co-culture of all cell types that make up the heart, including the fibroblasts that synthesize the ECM, to get a deeper understanding of this interaction.
- We conduct research with biomaterials suitable for the cultivation of cardiomyocytes and develop different ways to characterize the functional properties of the cardiomyocytes.
We integrate these in vitro heart models with (genetically
modified) mouse models
- Cells communicate with each other and with the ECM. The cell’s internal cytoskeleton is physically connected via protein-protein interactions to other cells and the ECM. We have studied responsible interactor proteins (for instance alpha-catenins, beta-actin, cadherins).
- We investigate the functionality, morphology, histology, and ultrastructural features of interactor protein-null murine hearts, also we use cardiomyocytes derived from interactor protein-null stem cells.
- The aim of our work is not only to develop 3D in vitro cultures but also make 3D reconstructions of intercellular junction of the intercalated discs obtained from mouse models. We demonstrated that volume scanning electron microscopy revealed the close relation between gap junctions and desmosomes and their spatial distribution in a 3D manner.
We co-operate with experts in various fields, including engineers, experts in biomaterials, electrophysiologists, geneticists and clinicians.