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Tissue engineering to heal little hearts

Jeffrey Jacot earns CAREER Award to pursue stem cells from amniotic fluid

Rice News

By Shawn Hutchins

Jeff Jacot_webJeffrey Jacot’s research into the causes of congenital heart disease, heart defects and the development of tissue-engineering therapies using stem cells derived from human amniotic fluid have earned him a personal honor as well as significant new funding through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development (CAREER) Award.

CAREER grants support the research and educational development of young scholars the NSF expects to become leaders in their field. The grants are among the most competitive awards from the NSF, which gives only about 400 per year across all disciplines.

Jacot, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University, an adjunct professor at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and director of the Pediatric Cardiac Bioengineering Laboratory at the Congenital Heart Surgery Service at Texas Children’s Hospital, studies the interplay of cardiac muscle by examining its cellular components, their micro-environment and how they function collectively to contract and propel blood.

As a principal investigator on several projects, Jacot works alongside surgeons and radiologists at BCM and with cardiovascular research laboratories at BCM to establish a therapeutically feasible stem cell source and understand how to control the growth of new cardiac tissue.

The collaborative research will serve as a blueprint toward linking the influences of such biophysical cues as stress, strain, shear, substrate stiffness and electrical stimulation to the development of healthy heart tissues that can serve as a patch for cardiac defects.

The work is based on two years of previously published studies on the effects of substrate stiffness on maturing heart cells, the mechanical environment of cardiovascular tissues and the development of heart tissue grown from stem cells taken from the amniotic fluid of patients’ mothers.

"Several labs have now shown that there's a progenitor cell that can be derived from amniotic fluid," Jacot said. "Now we're trying to look at specific cell types that those cells will differentiate into."

The basic idea, he said, is that "the cells you're implanting into an infant are genetically matched. I think that gets around a huge number of issues and makes the technique extremely promising."

“Dr. Jacot is a talented and highly inventive young member of the biomedical engineering community whose detailed analysis and rationally designed experiments bring a unique approach to the study and treatment of congenital heart disease,” said Charles Fraser Jr., surgeon-in-chief and chief of congenital heart surgery at Texas Children’s and a professor of surgery at BCM. “Because the regenerative cardiac therapies developed in his lab are grown from amniotic fluid-derived stem cells, they are genetically identical to the child and have potential to grow with the patient with minimal immune response.”

Jacot’s CAREER award will also fund an interactive exhibition and outreach program for elementary, middle and high school students to be developed in cooperation with the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston. The educational component, which is intended to inspire and help guide the next generation of scientists and engineers, includes field trips and teacher workshops as well as lectures and problem-based curriculum in systems physiology at Rice.