Prof aims to mend heart with fat cells
In the Turbulent Shear Flow Laboratory in the basement of the Cullen College of Engineering, Stanley Kleis and his team of student researchers are using fat cells to find ways to rejuvenate cardiac tissue damaged by heart attack.
"We are trying to identify the pathways to reduce damage in the heart and possibilities for developing therapies," said Kleis, who has served as a professor of mechanical engineering with a specialization in fluid mechanics for 35 years, and worked with NASA for the past 25 years to further develop the bioreactor device.
With the help of Kleis’ patented bioreactor, the researchers are using adipose-derived stromal cells, which are found in fatty tissue, to try to find a treatment for victims of heart attacks.
"So many people have a parent or grandparent or know someone who has had a heart attack and their loved ones’ lives have been shortened because of it. We want to help them," said Holley Love, a student researcher on Kleis’ team who is working to receive her masters in science in mechanical engineering.
"Fluid mechanics is a very complex subject. It’s fascinating to figure out how it all works," said Kleis, who, while teaching at the university, conducted a gamut of research ranging from turbulence-based studies to commercial fish farm studies.
When asked why he delved into experimenting with stromal cells as a means to provide relief to heart patients, Kleis said he was prompted by Sandra Geffert-Moore, who pursued the topic for her dissertation as a doctoral student.
During a heart attack, arteries that supply blood to the heart are constricted, preventing blood flow. Clotting additionally restricts the flow, starving the heart of oxygen-enriched blood, and leading to the death of heart muscle and the scarring of heart tissue. Scarred muscle tissue does not contract or pump as well as healthy heart muscle tissue, even when healed.
Kleis’ bioreactor, originally designed to produce cell cultures on NASA’s spaceflights, introduces stromal cells to cardiomyocytes, which theoretically repair and nourish dying cells. The fewer dying cells, the less the heart will scar. The less the heart scars, the better it will work after a heart attack.
Kleis and his team place stromal cells into the bioreactor with a peltier device, which acts as a thermal electric cooler, and provides the cells with heat, keeping them at body temperature.
"We inoculate the cells, grow them for 24 hours and then oxygenate them," Kleis said. "It’s like a simulated heart attack."
The simulations by Kleis and his team, however, are different from a heart attack because the test cells are stressed to a greater degree.
"The cells don’t beat," Love said jokingly.
Once the stromal cells have been reoxygenated they are stained to determine the state of the cells.
To make sure the measurements are accurate, the experiment has a dependent and independent variable. The stromal cells are placed on two sides of a piece of glass, only one side of which is experimented on. Because of this, they are able to see how much help the stromal cells are actually providing.
"If we can reduce the ones that are dying than we can reduce damage to tissue in the heart," Kleis said.