The motivation for the research in the Suggs lab is the widespread morbidity and mortality of cardiovascular disease. Disease associated with small to medium size vessels, such as coronary arteries, is the primary cause of death in the USA. Disease in the peripheral arteries can reduce blood flow in the lower limbs ultimately resulting in the potential for loss of limb.  Furthermore, limitations to growth of small blood vessels during wound healing, such as following burn injury, may lead to disappointing clinical outcomes. Cardiovascular tissue engineering is an attempt to design a physiologically interactive replacement for diseased or injured heart and vascular tissue. Tissue engineering holds the promise of providing functional vascular tissue which can successfully be incorporated into surrounding tissue and grow and be remodeled in a manner analogous to host tissue.

Our laboratory seeks to engineer cardiovascular structures through the direction of stem and progenitor cells. We work with pluripotent embryonic stem cells which have the potential for differentiation towards either cardiac myocytes (cardiomyocytes) or blood vessel cells; endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. We also work with adult stem cell populations including mesenchymal stem cells derived either from bone marrow or from fat.  We have explored their differentiation towards both smooth muscle cells as well as their potential for adopting endothelial characteristics when cultured in 3D matrices. In particular we are interested in biologically active, hydrogel matrices in order to control the delivery of both stem and progenitor cells as well as soluble factors important in blood vessel development. Furthermore, we are investigating how 3D hydrogels can be designed to drive phenotypic function and differentiation of stem and progenitor cells. 

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