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Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Researcher Receives Federal Grant to Study Stem Cells with Potential to Repair Heart Damage

A Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh researcher seeking a cure for muscular dystrophy has received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant of more than $1 million to study the use of stem cells to repair heart damage.

Johnny Huard, PhD, director of the Growth and Development Laboratory at Children’s Hospital, has received a five-year grant totaling $1.1 million to research whether a population of muscle-derived stem cells he previously discovered are more effective at muscle repair in the heart than adult muscle cells.

If his stem cells are superior, Dr. Huard will study what makes them more effective in repairing heart damage and how the stem cells can be genetically altered to prevent scar tissue and improve blood flow in damaged hearts.

Dr. Huard is one of a group of Pittsburgh researchers - headquartered at the University of Pittsburgh and led by principal investigator Joseph C. Glorioso, PhD - chosen by the NIH and the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) to serve as a cooperative research center for the muscular dystrophies, a group of genetic muscle-wasting diseases. Only three such centers in the United States were selected for funding by the NIH.

Patients with DMD often succumb to cardiovascular disease at an early age because their cells lack dystrophin, a protein that gives muscles, including the heart, structure. Dr. Huard has found that by genetically altering the stem cells he discovered in 2002, he can inject them into damaged muscle, replacing the missing dystrophin, which promotes muscle regeneration and leads to improved muscle function.

“I am extremely grateful the NIH and the MDA are supporting this research, which may lead to a cure not only of DMD, but a variety of other diseases,” Dr. Huard said. “For example, the cells I am studying are stem cells - which means they are not yet mature - and so we can alter them in the lab to become heart cells that repair heart damage.”

Dr. Huard is one of the world’s top molecular biologists researching stem cells. He currently is working with the stem cells he discovered in search of a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a genetic disease that is estimated to affect one in every 3,500 boys. DMD is the most common form of muscular dystrophy affecting children and patients often die in early adulthood because of heart damage.

However, the use of stem cells to repair heart and other muscle damage could have implications far beyond patients with muscular dystrophy, according to Dr. Huard, also an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, and Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“Although we are focusing on fundamental research into muscle repair, primarily in search of a cure for DMD, this research conceivably could be applied to anyone with heart disease, heart failure or other types of muscle damage,” Dr. Huard said.

This latest NIH grant is one of many Dr. Huard has received in the last five years to fund his research into the use of stem cells and gene therapy for musculoskeletal conditions including DMD, muscle injuries, and arthritis and joint injuries.

Contacts:
Marc Lukasiak, 412-692-5016, Marc.Lukasiak@chp.edu
Melanie Finnigan, 412-692-5016, Melanie.Finnigan@chp.edu

Last Update
February 19, 2008
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Last Update
February 19, 2008
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