My research focuses on developing a stem cell-derived model of the human heart to aid in the development of new treatments for Friedreich ataxia and type 2 diabetic heart disease.
I am a Shirley Keon Hummingbirds Fellow (O’Brien Foundation), Senior Research Officer and Rising Star at St Vincent’s Institute, and an Honorary Fellow at The University of Melbourne. Since 2020, I have co-convened the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research (ASSCR) monthly national webinar series which hosts national and international stem cell researchers.
The human heart is composed of many different cell types all working together to perform the vital function of pumping blood and nutrients around the body. In addition to the beating cardiomyocytes, there are vascular cells (endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells and pericytes) which supply the heart tissue with blood, autonomic neurons (sympathetic and parasympathetic) which control heart rhythm, fibroblasts which provide structure, and immune cells which respond to injury and infection. We generate many of these cell types from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and then bioengineer living, beating models of the human heart in a dish for disease modelling and drug testing.
Using stem cells created from patient tissue samples in the laboratory, we study rare diseases that affect the heart. This includes Friedreich ataxia, a rare neurodegenerative disease with an associated cardiomyopathy. We’re building understanding of how Friedreich ataxia affects the heart to cause heart disease, with the aim of finding new targets to reverse these debilitating disease effects.
2022 Shirley Keon Hummingbirds Fellowship; Harold Mitchell Foundation travel award; International Congress for Ataxia Research patient flash talk prize
2021 Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance Postdoctoral Award; St Vincent’s Institute Rising Star Award; Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery Senior Medical Staff Best Oral Prize; Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery Senior Medical Staff Best Poster Prize
2019 FameLab Victorian Finalist; Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery Senior Medical Staff Best Poster Prize; National Ataxia Foundation Young Investigator Award; CASS Foundation Medical Research Grant; St Vincent’s Hospital Research Endowment Fund Grant; Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research ECR Oral Award
2016 The University of Melbourne Science Abroad Travelling Scholarship; The University of Melbourne FH Drummond Travel Award; The University of Melbourne Alfred Nicholas Fellowship Award
2016 The University of Melbourne 3-Minute Thesis competition – Grand finalist
2015 The University of Melbourne 3-Minute Thesis competition – Grand finalist
2014 The University of Melbourne Jasper Loftus-Hills Award; Australian Post Graduate Award (APA) for PhD study
Lyu Q †, Gong S †, Lees JG †, Yin J, Yap LW, Kong AM, Shi Q, Fu R, Zhu Q, Dyer A, Dyson J, Lim SY, Cheng W. A soft and ultrasensitive force sensing diaphragm for probing cardiac organoids instantaneously and wirelessly. Nature Communications. 2022; 13, 7259. doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-34860-y. † Co-first author
Phang RJ, Ritchie RH, Hausenloy DJ, Lees JG*, Lim SY. Cellular interplay between cardiomyocytes and non-myocytes in diabetic cardiomyopathy. Cardiovasc Research. 2022. cvac049. doi:10.1093/cvr/cvac049. *Corresponding author
Lees JG, Napierala M, Pébay A, Dottori M, Lim SY. Cellular pathophysiology of Friedreich’s ataxia cardiomyopathy. International Journal of Cardiology. 2022. 1;3 46:71-78. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2021.11.033
Lees JG*, Lim SY, Gardner DK, Harvey AH. Stem cell metabolism: from embryonic development to stem cell differentiation. Conditioning Medicine 2021. 4(2): 88-99. *Corresponding author
Lees JG, Gardner DK & Harvey AJ. NAD+ induces a bivalent metabolism and maintains pluripotency in human embryonic stem cells. Stem Cells. 2020. 1-15. doi.org/10.1002/stem.3152.
Lees JG, Kong AM, Chen YC, Sivakumaran P, Hernández D, Pébay A, Harvey AJ, Gardner DK, Lim SY. (2019). Mitochondrial fusion by M1 promotes embryoid body cardiac differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells. Stem Cells International. 2019: 12, Article ID 6380135.
ORCID profile: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9259-8657
Google Scholar profile: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=QUXOGx4AAAAJ&hl=en