The goal of the BMBF/CIRM project "Characterization and Engineering of the Cardiac Stem Cell Niche" is to better understand the microenvironment of the islet-1 positive microenvironment in the fetal human heart for the purpose of exploiting these mechanism in vitro to expand or differentiate cardiac progenitror cells in vivo.
Cardiac cell therapy with hiPSC-derived cells, will require reproducible production of large numbers of well-characterized cells under defined conditions in vitro. This is particularly true for the rare and difficult to culture intermediates, such as CPCs. Our preliminary data demonstrated that a CPC niche exists during cardiac development and that CPC expansion is regulated by factors found within the niche microenvironment including specific soluble factors and ECM signals. However, our current understanding of the cardiac niche and how this unique microenvironment influences CPC fate is quite limited. We believe that if large scale production of hiPSC-derived CPCs is ever to be successful, new 3D cell culture technologies to replicate the endogenous cardiac niche will be required. The goals of this proposal are to address current deficiencies in our understanding of the cardiac niche and its effects on CPC expansion and differentiation as well as utilize novel bioengineering approaches to fabricate synthetic niche environments in vitro.