Financial support from HSCI has made it possible for Christine L. Mummery, PhD, a professor of developmental biology at the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, to spend this fall on a research sabbatical at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The first-ever fellow supported by HSCI, Mummery is a highly regarded heart stem cell expert. Her goal is to better understand the differentiation of heart cells through collaborative work with Ken Chien, MD, PhD, director of the Cardiovascular Research Center at the MGH, and Kit Parker, director of the Disease Biophysics Group at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).
Mummery is working to understand how the heart develops by studying the process by which stem cells mature into different types of heart cells. In her lab, viable pumping heart cells grown from stem cells have been implanted into mice. In these models, she observes that these grafted cells produce no apparent long-term improvement in heart function, although in several other groups, she does find short-term benefit. Why this occurs is not well understood.
Mummery hypothesizes that transplanted cells may not exert a force equivalent to the same cell type found normally in hearts. She also made the observation that sarcomeres, critical protein complexes in muscle cells, are highly unorganized in these grafted cells unlike those in normal heart-muscle cells.
At Harvard, she is collaborating with Parker’s group at SEAS and Chien’s at MGH to examine the electrical properties and action potential of various cell shapes to understand how shape may be related to the force of contraction. The result of her inquiry may help determine whether adult stem cells can be a viable source for transplantation to replace parts of the heart damaged due to heart attack or heart failure.
In addition to her research project, Mummery is an active member of the HSCI community. She has already given a talk to her Radcliffe Institute colleagues, participated on a panel at the Stem Cell Summit and will be giving additional talks to the larger HSCI community.