Friday, September 26, 2008

Physician receives NIH New Innovator Award

Sean M. Wu, MD, PhD

Sean M. Wu, MD, PhD, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, recently received the prestigious New Innovator Award from the National Institute of Health (NIH). This is the second year that the NIH has given these $1.5M grants to younger scientists interested in pursuing innovative research.

With the grant, members of Dr. Wu’s lab will investigate different ways to adopt the natural process of heart formation during embryonic development to generate functioning heart tissue for regeneration.

By studying heart formation in the developing embryo, Dr. Wu hopes to use stem cells to eventually aid patients with damaged heart muscle due to conditions such as heart attack or heart failure.

“This grant is meant to explore very preliminary ideas that have significant impact both scientifically and medically,” explains Wu.

In the past his lab has been trying to use heart muscle cells derived from embryonic stem cells to repair heart attacks in mice. But they ran into one problem – these cells didn’t know how to form a functioning heart tissue.

Over the next five years Wu and the rest of his lab will take a different approach that will use both embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) as the starting material to engineer functioning heart muscle in a developing mouse embryo. Their hope is that this approach will produce patient-specific tissues that can be used in regenerative therapy.

“These awards are particularly valuable to young investigators like me, given the current NIH funding situation, to allow for pursuit of exceptionally innovative ideas that might otherwise not be funded by the traditional grant mechanism.”

Wu is thankful for the support of such valuable research. He believes that by understanding how the heart is formed during early embryonic development, scientists can apply this knowledge to repair diseased hearts and potentially cure heart muscle loss in patients worldwide.

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