This year, Pint of Science 2022 is taking place from 9 – 11 May 2022, with three nights in Oxford devoted to the popular ‘Our Body’ theme. The first, held at St Aldates Tavern, focused on heart disease and regeneration. Dr Joaquim Vieira, BHF Basic Science Research Fellow and Principal Investigator at the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM), talked about ‘Uncovering the silent genes behind heart regeneration’, which generated a lively discussion and was followed by a science quiz.
There is presently no effective treatment available to mend the heart after a heart attack. Recent work from Dr Vieira has shown that the heart attempts to replenish its damaged tissue by reverting to similar processes that were used in the embryo to build the heart before birth. It is important to understand the molecular mechanisms behind heart development in order to identify new targets for adult heart repair and regeneration.
Dr Vieira investigates how epicardial cells become activated and invade the heart’s myocardial layer in a process called the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which is necessary for the formation of coronary blood vessels and cardiac muscle. Once the heart is fully formed, these cells form a protective outer later, and no longer help to produce new blood vessels and muscle cells. This means the heart has very limited regenerative potential and cannot compensate for the major loss of cells caused by a heart attack. The Vieira Group aims to understand how the EMT process works during development, with particular attention to the WT1 gene, which controls epicardial cell activation, before switching off in the adult heart. The ultimate goal is to reactivate the EMT process in the adult heart and harness the regenerative potential of the epicardium.
Following his talk on Monday night, Dr Vieira said: “I truly enjoyed the opportunity to share with the wider public our research to better understand gene regulation in the context of heart development and response to injury. As a researcher and junior group leader, I believe it is important to step out of our comfort zone and participate in initiatives such as Pint of Science to promote public engagement with science and raise awareness to the work sponsored by BHF being developed here in DPAG.”