IMB scientist prepares for new era of cardiovascular research

18 September 2017

IMB researcher Dr Nathan Palpant studies human heart development using stem cells, to generate beating cardiac muscle cells in a dish. 

For this work, Dr Palpant received a UQ Foundation Research Excellence Award in recognition of the contribution he has made to an international effort to fight cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death globally.           

“The goal of our research is to expand the treatment options for cardiovascular diseases. We can do this by studying mechanisms that control stem cell differentiation – the process where a cell becomes more ‘specialised’ to perform different functions,” Dr Palpant said.  

“We use this approach to develop cell types comprising the cardiovascular system, including cells to make heart muscle and vascular cells that make blood vessels.”

“Understanding how to make cells of the cardiovascular system from stem cells is critical for disease modelling, drug discovery and developing novel cell therapeutics for tissue regeneration.”

“Building on decades of work in stem cell biology, I think we are moving into a new era of translational applications for cardiovascular disease.”

Dr Nathan Palpant
Dr Nathan Palpant, IMB Group Leader, Stem Cells and Cardiovascular Development

Dr Palpant used a technique called single-cell RNA sequencing, to analyse nearly 50,000 individual cells, the largest current collection of single cell data to understand how stem cells are differentiated into heart muscle.

The power of this approach is in the vast information revealing the identity of individual cells journeying from an undifferentiated state down a differentiation path into beating heart cells over the course of one month.  

“This work will help researchers understand the basis of heart development and disease, providing information on how networks of genes are involved in regulating a cell’s identity during differentiation,” Dr Palpant said.

“This award will allow us to build on our understanding of how to control differentiation to increase the translational opportunities of stem cell biology for cardiovascular disease.”

The UQ Foundation Research Excellence Awards were presented during UQ Research Week on Tuesday 12 September 2017.

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