Abstract: The expression of genes uniquely associated with the cardiac phenotype is necessary, but not sufficient, to endow heart muscle cells with their functional capabilities. Post-translational assembly and organization of intracellular protein networks within cardiac muscle cells result in the spatial organization of the molecular motors responsible for contraction, but what guides these processes is poorly understood. We argue that biological form is a signaling modality conserved over all the length scales of the heart and guides how cardiac cells and tissues build themselves. To test our hypotheses of how form regulates function in the heart, our group has developing an ensemble of vertically-integrated in vitro models that exploit our ability to engineer the biotic-abiotic interface. We have found that cardiac gene expression, electrophysiology, and contractility is exquisitely sensitive to cell and tissue architecture and that extracellular boundary conditions can be used to engineer heart muscle that recapitulates the function of healthy and diseased tissue. These results are important not only because of what we have learned about the heart, but because our technologies can be further developed for drug discovery and safety studies.
Bio: Kevin Kit Parker is the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Applied Science and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. He is the director of the Disease Biophysics Group whose research focuses on mechanotransduction in neural and cardiovascular systems. He is also a member of the Systems Biology Program at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program. Prof. Parker researches cardiac cell biology and tissue engineering, traumatic brain injury, and biological applications of micro- and nanotechnologies. Working in both the Biomimetic Microsystems Platform and the Programmable Nanomaterials Platform, Kit is involved in projects ranging from creating organs-on-chips to developing nanofabrics for applications in tissue regeneration.
Host: Prof. Megan Valentine