Todd Camenisch, PhD, and his lab investigate the integration between extracellular matrix and growth factor receptor signaling during heart morphogenesis. The emphasis is on heart septae and valve formation.
The heart is the first organ to form during embryonic development. The formation of the heart is a very complex and highly regulated process. Failure of the heart to properly form stops further development or results in congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects are the most prevalent type of birth defects observed in infants. Congenital heart defects occur at a rate of 1-2% of all births with heart valve defects being the second most common type of heart defect. These types of heart defects are a major contributor to infant mortality. Infants with such defects require surgery within the first year of life often followed by subsequent interventions. Continued studies are revealing novel molecules involved in heart development and are also allowing us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of cardiovascular development. Medicine and basic research have reached a point whereby understanding the normal development of the functioning heart and the consequences of pathologic conditions will lead to novel remedies for congenital heart defects as well as valvular disease in adults.
Dr. Camenisch and his lab have established that hyaluronan, a matrix sugar, is able to modulate receptor tyrosine kinase activity during early heart valve morphogenesis. Research leads them to believe the EGFR family of receptors and cognate ligands play integral functions during heart development. This growth factor signaling activity is most likely context specific in regards to matrix components, proteases and growth factor presence. Thus, experimental approaches are designed to decipher this complex developmental process.