In our research group, we focus on stimulating cardiac regeneration, thereby using approaches that can lead to improved recovery of cardiac tissue upon injury and improve the diagnosis of acute myocardial damage. In recent years, we identified miRNAs that can push cell lineage specifications and how we could improve progenitor cell transplantation, specifically improving local delivery and cell retentions. This was in close collaborations with Domian (Harvard), Sussman (San Diego State University), and Mercola (Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute). My group substantially improved cell delivery to the myocardium, from which we also realized that most of the injected cell action was due to the potential paracrine actions. My group has therefore started to study the use of secreted exosomes by these cells as a novel approach to induce cardiac repair and aim to create a potential of-the-shelf therapy.
In parallel to the cell therapeutics, we have also identified several microRNAs that could be used as a direct therapeutic after myocardial damage has occured. Among them, miR-100 (Circulation 2011) and miR-214 for angiogenesis (CardioVascRes 2012), and miR-25 for heart failure (Nature 2014). This was in close collaborations with Domian (Harvard), Sussman (San Diego State University), Mercola (Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute), Xiao (Shanghai University, China), and Christman (University of California, San Diego). Although promising, these potent new targets need smart delivery strategies to prevent systemic side-effects; this directly lead me to initiate the BMM-LUST program that uses nano-medicine for targeted delivery. BMM-LUST made use of polymer-based delivery routes; the next leap in targeted delivery, I believe, lies in a natural carrier system. At this stage these polymer-based delivery routes are easily outperformed by the natural carrier system that transport biologicals between cells, called exosomes. I therefore proposed the ERC-EVICARE program to combine my expertise in cardiac cell therapy, microRNA therapeutics and the use of our newly developed matrices for local delivery. My enthusiasm for introducing innovative molecular approaches and new therapeutic strategies, and my wide experiences in progenitor cell biology and preclinical animal model testing for cardiac injury will ensure that this research can go quickly from basic discoveries to preclinical testing in patient relevant animal models.