Laflamme and Keller
UHN researchers Michael Laflamme (left) and Gordon Keller are among four collaborators working on a Medicine by Design-funded project, that if successful, could help restore function and health in patients experiencing heart failure after a heart attack. (Photo: UHN StRIDe Team)

When a person has a heart attack, working cardiac muscle dies and is replaced by scar tissue. Treatments are few and those that are available are mostly aimed at slowing the progression of the patient's underlying heart disease, rather than restoring function to the damaged part of the heart.

But what if doctors could inject heart muscle cells derived from stem cells into the ailing organ to repair it? That is the question Dr. Michael Laflamme has been working on for nearly his entire research career.

In 2015, Laflamme came to Toronto from the University of Washington to further his work in cardiac regenerative medicine. Soon after his arrival, he was named to head an interdisciplinary team of investigators funded by the University of Toronto's Medicine by Design initiative to fast-track cardiac cell therapy.

"I think things are going well," says Laflamme, the Robert R. McEwen Chair in Cardiac Regenerative Medicine at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine [Editor's Note: Link is no longer available] and a senior scientist at University Health Network's Toronto General Hospital Research Institute.

Laflamme, who is also an associate professor at U of T's Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology, put together a team of about two dozen scientists that includes three co-principal investigators, as well as post-doctoral fellows and graduate students.

Using a variety of non-human studies, team members are working to overcome important but surmountable hurdles that lie in the way of using stem cell-derived cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, to repair damaged muscle after a heart attack.

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