FEIT Research Project Database

Cardiac cell mechanobiology

Project Leader: Vijayaraghavan Rajagopal
Student: Nathan Isles
Collaborators: Eric Hanssen (Bio21 Institute), Lea Delbridge (Physiology)
Primary Contact: Vijay Rajagopal (vijay.rajagopal@unimelb.edu.au)
Keywords: computational biology; heart; mechanobiology
Disciplines: Biomedical Engineering,Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering,Mechanical Engineering
Domains: Convergence of engineering and IT with the life sciences
Research Centre: Systems Biology Laboratory

Heart disease is a leading cause of death globally. Heart disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes. Changes to morphology, mechanics and organisation within heart cells occur in parallel to biochemical changes during development, long-term exercise, life-style changes and disease. Whether these structural and mechanical changes are minor, adaptive or pathological responses to the changing conditions is still largely unknown. Many clinical interventions to heart disease that were initially targeted at biochemical processes alone have been proposed to be effective because of the indirect structural and mechanical changes that occur with the treatment. What role do these changes in the cell play in our hearts? The aim of this project is to develop a detailed, high-resolution finite element model of a single heart cell using our novel high-resolution structural microscopy and single-cell mechanical testing data. 

This project will involve new experimental measurements of the heart cell in health and diseased conditions such as cardiac hypertrophy or diabetic cardiomyopathy. Students will also measure the mechanical properties of these cells using single-cell mechanical testing facilities in our lab. These data will be used to build high-resolution computational models of the heart cell. The model will be used to study how remodeling of the cell cytoskeleton affects cardiac cell mechanics. The simulations and experiments will give new insights into the mechanobiology of cardiac disease development at the cellular scale. These insights are important for the development of better pharmaceuticals to treat cardiac diseases. 

An automatically segmented dataset of a heart cell showing myofibrils (red), mitochondria (green) and the nucleus (blue)