The heart – pumping, beating, constantly in motion – contains many different cells working cooperatively. When a heart attack strikes, the heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) die and cannot regenerate. This has led to investigations into how we can engineer our hearts to protect the cells we’ve had since birth.
Cellular biologist Keith Dadson an Education Fund award from the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research in Fall 2015, to analyze that very question.
Under the direction of Drs. Filio Billia and Vivek Rao (University Health Network), Dadson focused on the Myc gene, which is known to be involved in both heart disease and cancer. We know that artificially increasing Myc levels causes abnormal growth of the heart, and that Myc levels are also increased in proliferating tumor cells.
Could the work done in cancer research provide a way for us to protect the heart by naturally decreasing Myc levels in cardiomyocytes? In this way, Dadson is taking a cancer disease model and switching course to see if it can protect against heart failure.
“We are harnessing the natural biology of this system,” Dadson says. “Taking cancer models and the deep knowledge around it, and applying it in [heart failure] is brand new. We are in uncharted territory.”
With the knowledge that Myc is an important molecule in cancer, Dadson and his supervisors discovered it is also a central regulator of cardiac biology. Now they are taking a comprehensive approach to find what proteins are downstream of Myc and the Mule protein, as well as the overarching systems that they regulate.
The Billia lab, focused on cardiomyocyte biochemistry, is where Dadson is doing wet lab work. With Dr. Rao, he is performing animal surgeries. And Dadson is collaborating with a lab in the Centre’s Translational Biology and Engineering Program, which is also looking at cardiomyocytes.
“Our labs are well intertwined, sharing ideas and techniques back and forth. You elevate the impact factor of your work through collaborations.” says Dadson.
“To me, finding the questions is the motivation to keep on going. That’s the purpose of research – not only answer them, but uncover more questions. It’s early days and the story evolves as you go.”
That story involves pushing the boundaries on what is possible in the biology of heart cells.