If an Organ’s Broke, Do Fix It

We talk to two of the brilliant minds behind Medicine by Design, working to solve the complex problem of how to fix damaged organs.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Regenerative medicine has enormous potential to repair broken organs. By understanding natural self-repair, researchers are looking to tackle harder problems, like fixing the broken heart.

Philip Marsden and Alison McGuigan, professors at the University of Toronto’s Medicine by Design research group, are solving more complex problems together than they could alone.

Medicine by Design brings together basic scientists, clinicians, surgeons, and students to collaborate and build on one another’s expertise. This network fosters partnerships that allow the team to approach complex problems from many sides, through the lenses of many disciplines.

“We have a team of about eight principal investigators, each of which has their own research theme, each bringing in unique expertise into how to fix broken organs,” says Marsden, a clinician scientist and kidney doctor at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto.

“We’re building models to try and explore those mechanisms that really complement some of the work other team members are doing, like Phil Marsden, for example, and really incorporate some of the molecules that they find into a place where we can make human muscle,” adds McGuigan, a biomedical engineer.

Both Marsden and McGuigan are interested in repairing injured muscle, and their work begins by looking at the natural repair mechanisms that the body uses, and how they can be enhanced.

“For instance, if I get into a car accident and my leg gets crushed by the car door, the muscle can repair itself, and it’s pretty darn good at that. And we understand some of the basics,” says Marsden.

From there, the problem gets more complex when looking at other organs, where natural regeneration doesn’t come as easily. For instance, heart muscle doesn’t have the same capacity to repair itself after an injury like a heart attack. And it turns out that damaged blood vessels are a major obstacle in heart repair.

“We’re trying to build a model of muscle regeneration to try to really understand the way that different cell types in the body – so from blood vessels and immune cells – interact with muscle cells and muscle stem cells to regenerate the muscle after an injury,” explains McGuigan.

Together, they are looking at biomaterials that might be able to assist in the repair process. Their combined expertise allows them to accelerate towards a solution.

“We can start translating the work by doing it in a dish first before translating it into patients,” says McGuigan. “These are very, very complex problems, and coming at them from different angles and having a platform or a forum where this can all be integrated together is really valuable, and something that’s quite unique.”

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