Ching-Ling (Ellen) Lien awarded $1.7 million to study heart regeneration

Zebrafish heart with coronary vessels (Image courtesy of Ellen Lien/Children's Hospital Los Angeles)
Zebrafish heart with coronary vessels (Image courtesy of Ellen Lien/Children's Hospital Los Angeles)

Ching-Ling (Ellen) Lien, an investigator at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and principal investigator with USC Stem Cell, has been awarded nearly $1.7 million, over a four year period, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health to study the molecular and cellular mechanisms of the heart’s circulatory system. The research will lead to a better understanding of development and heart regeneration after injury.

Heart disease is among the leading causes of death for both adults and children. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) occurs when the heart is deprived of oxygen due to blockage of a coronary artery.  Coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with oxygenated blood. Yet, the mechanisms that regulate coronary vascularization of the myocardium (the middle and thickest muscle layer of the heart wall) remain unknown.

Using zebrafish as a model system to study developmental and regenerative processes of the heart, Lien’s goal is to determine the molecular and cellular mechanisms of myocardial vascularization during heart development. Zebrafish have become an important vertebrate model for cardiovascular research not only because of their natural ability to regenerate, but also because of their transparency, which allows researchers to observe internal processes such as blood vessel development.

“Our long-term goal is to use the mechanisms of zebrafish heart regeneration as a blueprint to design potential therapeutic approaches to enhance heart repair in humans,” said Lien, principal investigator and an assistant professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The investigators expect that their research can lead to findings that will shed light on potential developmental causes of coronary heart disease and may enhance neovascularization (new blood vessel formation in abnormal tissue) in diseased human hearts in the future.

Co-investigators on the team include: Scott Fraser and Megan McCain, both of USC Stem Cell. Other collaborators include Mark Frey of CHLA and Henry Sucov of USC Stem Cell.