The objective of our research work is to better understand the origins of congenital heart disease (CHD), which affects about 1% of newborn babies in the US and is the leading non-infectious cause of death among infants. In particular, we are interested in the role of hemodynamic forces (forces exerted on tissues by the flow of blood) on cardiac development. In animal models, alterations of normal blood flow through the heart during development lead to cardiac defects that resemble those found in humans. While genetic defects are known to underlie some cardiac malformations, abnormal hemodynamic conditions are just as likely to be responsible for many heart defects observed in humans.
Although changes in hemodynamic forces are known to lead to CHD, the mechanisms by which this happens are not fully understood. This is in part due to the complexity of the interactions between cardiac tissue, blood flow and cellular responses to mechanical stimuli, and in part due to the many technological challenges associates with measuring forces and deformations on small hearts that are beating fast. Our goal is to use a combination of engineering and biology tools to unravel the mechanisms by which hemodynamic forces affect heart formation.