Programming Cells of the Heart
What if we could program cells of the heart to behave as we want? This is the revolutionary idea Dr. Lorrie Kirshenbaum, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Cardiology, is exploring in his research into regulating the growth and death of cardiac muscle cells.
Kirshenbaum is fascinated by the behaviour of cells of the heart, which lose their ability to divide shortly after we are born and either increase in size or die. This is a critical problem for patients who have heart disease, because heart cells that die cannot be replaced.
Kirshenbaum is studying ways to manipulate cell survival at the genetic level. His research has already demonstrated that particular genes are intimately involved in both the life and death of these cardiac cells. Aided by cutting edge gene therapy, Kirshenbaum is using viruses to deliver genes into cardiac muscle cells to direct them how to live longer and resist injury following heart attack.
By introducing new DNA (genes) into these cells, scientists could potentially direct cells to suppress or kill cancer cells, or to kill off other genes which are provoking the death of cells that heart patients need.
Kirshenbaum's research could have ground-breaking implications for heart disease, which is responsible for almost half of all deaths in Canada. Limiting the number of dying heart cells following a heart attack would greatly reduce the effects of heart disease.