Dr Jelena Rnjak-Kovacina
University of New South Wales
Research Field: Biomedical engineering
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality worldwide and there are currently no effective treatments for the damage to the heart tissue caused by myocardial infarction or the heart attack. Cardiac patches are cardiac tissue analogues are grown in the lab by populating biomaterials (or materials developed to interface with our body) with appropriate cells and may be a viable long-term alternative to treating myocardial infarction. However, the clinical utility of cardiac patches is limited by insufficient and delayed vascularisation once implanted, resulting in cell death and poor patch integration.
Dr Rnjak-Kovacina’s research aims to understand the physical and biological cues that drive tissue vascularisation and to replicate these in biomaterials, so we can develop viable bioengineered tissues such as cardiac patches. Her vision is a future in which patients can be offered novel treatment solutions for cardiovascular disease by growing replacement tissues in the laboratory. Cardiac patches are not limited to treating only adults following myocardial infarction, but have the potential to repair cardiac muscle of children born with congenital heart defects as well as be used as in vitro models of the human myocardium to study heart development or test new pharmaceuticals.