Growing human heart
tissue in the lab
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Given the heart’s limited regenerative capacity, diseases that result in the death of cardiac muscle cells – such as heart attack – can produce devastating malfunction.
Enter UQ School of Biomedical Sciences researcher Dr James Hudson, whose research is focused on unravelling the molecular mechanisms that drive cardiac regeneration and development.
Dr Hudson received the 2017 Queensland Cardiovascular Researcher of the Year Award from the National Heart Foundation in May. His Muscle Tissue Engineering Laboratory uses state-of-the-art bioengineering techniques to produce functional human cardiac organoids – miniaturised and simplified versions of organs. The lab is using these organoids to discover the fundamentals of development, multicellular interactions and function.
Advances in stem cell sciences and tissue engineering have provided unparalleled opportunities to generate human heart tissues ‘in a dish’. Dr Hudson’s team utilised these technologies in a significant step for cardiac disease research – the creation of a functional, ‘beating’ human heart muscle in the laboratory. This research included collaboration with German researchers and Australian partners to create models of human heart tissue to study cardiac biology and diseases from stem cells.
The patented technology enables scientists to perform experiments on human heart tissue solely in the laboratory. They have viable, functioning human heart muscle to work on, to model disease, screen new drugs and investigate heart repair. The Hudson team has also extended the research and proven that immature tissues have the capacity to regenerate following injury.
“We used dry ice to kill part of the tissue while leaving the surrounding muscle healthy and viable,” Dr Hudson explains.
The goal now is to use this model to potentially find new therapeutic targets to enhance or induce cardiac regeneration in people with heart failure.
“Studying regeneration of these damaged, immature cells will enable us to figure out the biochemical events behind this process,” Dr Hudson says.
“Our goal is to determine how to trigger this replication process in adult hearts for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.”
Dr Hudson graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical & Biological) from UQ in 2006. Rather than pursuing a career in industry, he chose to undertake a PhD in tissue engineering in the laboratory of Professor Justin Cooper-White, to focus his research at the forefront of biotechnology advances. He then travelled to Goettingen Germany to do postdoctoral research in the lab of Prof Wolfram-Hubertus Zimmermann at the Heart Research Center Goettingen, a collective of basic and clinically-focused researchers.
In 2013, he was awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia Early Career Fellowship to bring his work to Australia, and has been recently awarded a co-funded NHMRC Career Development and National Heart Foundation Future Leaders Fellowship to continue to advance his research in 2017. For his National Heart Foundation Future Leaders Fellowship he received the Paul Korner innovation award, for the top ranked application nationally.
Dr Hudson’s laboratory hosts five researchers, has produced 22 publications and registered four patents.
The Hudson lab is one of eight core labs in UQ’s Centre for Cardiac and Vascular Biology, which was launched in May. The CCVB recognises the need for a multidisciplinary approach to cardiovascular disease and includes members and affiliates across UQ and Brisbane’s hospitals.