November 28, 2019  Print

Researchers from WIMR’s Centre for Heart Research presented their work at the recent ASSCR-AGCTS-ISCT ANZ 2019 Joint Scientific Meeting, ‘From Stem Cells to Genes to Therapies’.

Dr Melad Farraha and Dr Cindy Kok displayed their innovative work using stem cells and gene therapy techniques to combat serious health issues affecting the heart.

Dr Farraha received a travel grant to attend the Scientific Meeting. 
Dr Farraha presented his work on how cardiomyocytes – the muscle cells of the heart – can be ‘reprogrammed’ into pacemaker cells using gene therapy. Using this technique, Dr Farraha hopes to develop a biological ‘pacemaker’ that could correct unpredictable heart rhythms (arrhythmia).

He said, “Heart arrhythmia is associated with complications, such as an increased risk of sudden cardiac death. Currently, electronic pacemakers are used to correct arrhythmias. They are effective, but require surgery to insert, which carries a potential risk of infection, and they may malfunction or need a battery replacement.”

“A biological pacemaker could provide a safe, long-term and minimally invasive alternative to electronic pacemakers.”

Dr Farraha received the AGCTS Travel Award to attend the Scientific Meeting.

Dr Cindy Kok presented on the use of new gene therapy vectors developed from stem cells to treat heart disease. These transport genetic material to cells.

Dr Kok and the team in WIMR’s Cardiac Gene Therapy Group have identified five new adeno-associate virus (AAV) capsids – the protein ‘shell’ of a virus particle – that can efficiently deliver gene therapy to human heart cells.

Theses capsids are now being further characterised for potential use in treating heart failure and protecting against damage to the heart muscle.

“The heart is, unfortunately, one of the few organs in the body that cannot repair itself to a meaningful
Dr Kok is researching ways of delivering gene therapy to the heart. 
degree. This means that following damage, such as from heart attack, the heart muscle is weakened and unable to perform optimally. This can place patients at risk of heart failure,” Dr Kok said.

“Gene therapy is one technique that could, potentially, help to restore function to the damaged heart, thereby reducing the likelihood of heart failure.”

WIMR would like to thank Dr Farraha and Dr Kok for attending the Scientific Meeting, and sharing their research discoveries with the scientific community.