As a pediatric cardiologist, I see the tremendous suffering caused by cardiovascular disease—the world’s most common cause of death. Many people think of it as an adult illness. But in the United States cardiovascular disease kills more men and women and children than any other condition. And when it doesn’t kill people outright, cardiovascular disease can leave people so debilitated that they have trouble crossing the parking lot, to get from their car to their office. My own father suffers from heart disease and has difficulty climbing a flight of stairs.
People like my dad, and the children I look after, inspire me and my fellow cardiovascular scientists to better understand, prevent, treat and—ultimately—cure cardiovascular disease. We’d like to help create a different world—in which, for example, people who arrive at the emergency room with a heart attack are given an injection that transforms newly forming scar tissue into beating heart cells. Or perhaps a world in which I dispense prescriptions for new drugs that tell a child’s heart how to repair itself.
As we work together towards this future, I predict rapid progress from the promise of stem cell research. Today’s cellular reprogramming techniques let us turn one kind of cell into another—and are already helping us create heart cells from skin samples of patients with cardiovascular disease. We’re using those heart cells to test the safety and efficacy of new and existing drugs. This kind of personalized, clinical-trial-in-a-dish research is quite revolutionary, as is our vision of using reprogramming techniques to turn cardiac scar tissue into beating heart cells—without open-heart surgery, transplants or postoperative complications.
To be sure, this is an exciting time in heart research. And at Gladstone, while we focus on unraveling the basics of fundamental biology, we do so to fuel breakthroughs in human health. So in our laboratories, basic scientists work side-by-side with physician scientists who, like me, bring the patient perspective to our work. Together, we spend our days examining things on a microscopic level—so that we can have an impact on a global level.