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Heart Foundation project grant and research fellowship award for Dr Steven Cui

Thursday 30 September 2021 10:02am

Dr Xiaolin (Steven) Cui image
Dr Xiaolin (Steven) Cui of the Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReaTE) research group.

The promise of a novel treatment option for myocardial infarction (heart attack) using regenerative medicine technologies has won Dr Xiaolin (Steven) Cui a three-year research fellowship from the Heart Foundation of New Zealand plus project funding, together totalling $390,000 NZD.

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in New Zealand, and thousands of New Zealanders each year have heart attacks, often resulting in permanent heart damage. Current treatment options do not offer the potential to regenerate the dead muscle tissue after the heart attack, which over time can lead to the development of heart failure and premature death.

Dr Cui’s research uses extracellular vesicles (secretions from cells, in this case, stem cells) and delivers them to the site of damage, using a minimally invasive application, with the aim of stimulating the dead heart tissue to regenerate and heal.

“Currently there’s no really practical way to administer extracellular vesicles,” Dr Cui explains. “If you want to target delivery to the heart you have to do open chest surgery. Another way is to inject through the vein, but that reduces the effectiveness of the extracellular vesicles on the heart. In addition, they also sometimes go to other organs, resulting in an inadequate therapeutic effect. So we are developing a very targeted delivery using a minimally invasive surgical approach without the need for open chest surgery.”

Dr Cui’s research is part of a large multi-national research project that involves bioengineers, polymer chemists, stem cell biologists, cardiac physiologists, and cardiologists working in New Zealand, China, Australia and the United States.

“We have conducted some early preclinical experiments showing that the treatment can significantly improve heart function and regenerate dead heart tissue in small animals after a heart attack. The Heart Foundation is supporting the next stage of testing for this treatment. If it’s successful, it could be translated into a clinical trial in the near future.”

Dr Cui works as a research fellow at the Christchurch Regenerative Medicine and Tissue Engineering (CReaTE) group, and through this research, he enjoys close interactions with the Christchurch Heart Institute.