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What we do

During heart development, stem cells differentiate into distinct cardiac cells, including atrial, ventricular and nodal cells. The right decisions during cardiac cell differentiation are essential for normal heart development. In some cases, there is an error during the process of cardiac cell lineage acquisition and that may lead to structural defects of the heart, known as congenital heart disease (CHD). In our lab, we focus on identifying the molecular mechanisms that control stem cell differentiation toward specific cardiac lineages. We aim to decipher signaling pathways, transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms that regulate specific cardiac cell fates. We want to use this knowledge to identify mechanisms and factors important for cardiac cell development and to provide new tools to design stem cell-based strategies for cardiac repair.

Why do we study this?

Nearly 1% of babies are born with Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) and they face a life-long risk of health problems, and current therapies are limited to corrective surgery and heart transplant. We investigate the process of cardiac cell differentiation because we want to identify the molecular mechanisms that lead to cardiac defects. We expect that the understanding of how a stem cell become a cardiac cell will be used to devise new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for CHD and heart regeneration.

Our approach

The main models of study in our lab are the human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs) from patients carrying CHD. We aim to recapitulate the very early stages of cardiac development by applying both directed differentiation strategies together with 3D differentiation approaches. We apply a wide-range of techniques to obtain a comprehensive panel of the transcriptome and the epigenome of the cells during cardiac cell fate acquisition.