Posted: 30th March 2021
Every minute in Australia, someone is hospitalised for cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases). Every day 118 Australians die of these diseases, and every year the economic cost is $5 billion – more than for any other disease.1
Dr Shiang (Max) Lim, Head of the Cardiac Regeneration group in SVI’s O’Brien Department, is tackling this massive health burden head-on. Using stem cells and tissue engineering, Max and his team are finding new ways to protect the heart from injury following an attack.
“Stem cells have the potential to improve recovery from heart attack by producing beneficial, therapeutic factors,” says Max. “However, the common method of injecting stem cells directly into the heart muscle is invasive and risky. The cells quickly die, resulting in only short-term beneficial effect.”
Max’s team, in collaboration with St Vincent’s Hospital colleagues, have discovered a new type of human heart stem cell that secretes the therapeutic factors needed for heart repair. The team’s work has now successfully isolated and grown these stem cells in the lab.
“Delivering the stem cells safely and effectively so they can repair the hearts of patients who need them is our next challenge,” Max explains.
In a collaborative effort across multiple institutes in Australia, Singapore and the USA, Max’s group have recently identified a new and safe method to deliver the stem cells: an encapsulation device that can protect transplanted cells from immune attack.
“Minimally invasive and clinically adaptable to treat heart disease, this clinical-grade device has been tested in patients with thyroid disease and is currently being trialled to treat patients with diabetes,” says Max.
“I first heard from Dr Tom Loudovaris about its use in islet transplants for patients with type 1 diabetes. Tom manages SVI’s islet isolation facility, so we’re colleagues, although working on different teams.”
“Tom’s work seeded the idea that I could use the same device as a means to introduce stem cells safely into the body to treat heart disease.” Max is now pursuing funding to take his team’s research findings to the next step: understanding whether this new method provides longer-term protection for heart disease using clinical grade stem cells. If the results are positive, a clinical trial would commence.
This project was supported by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne Research Endowment Fund, the Stafford Fox Medical Research Foundation, and the CASS Foundation.