Helen Blau and Sarah Heilshorn awarded 2020 Keck Foundation Medical Research Award

Overview of Keck Grant

Helen Blau and Sarah Heilshorn were jointly awarded a 2020 Keck Foundation Medical Research Award for their proposal Dynamic Biomaterials to Probe the Role of Tissue Stiffening in Proliferation-Independent Telomere Dysfunction. The Blau lab recently identified telomere shortening as a hallmark of DMD cardiomyopathy, as well as of other heritable cardiomyopathies, leading the investigators to postulate that telomere shortening plays a causal role in heart failure in many genetic diseases. However, this hypothesis is controversial, given that telomere shortening has historically been associated with cell division, and cardiomyocytes do not divide. The investigators will determine whether mechanical stress drives telomere shortening and subsequent pathogenic signaling, leading to cardiomyocyte death. They have developed a novel hydrogel platform that can be stiffened and softened on demand to tune mechanical load, which will be used in conjunction with human induced pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes from DMD patients and live cell imaging to answer the fundamental question: How can telomeres shorten without cell division? 2021 CVI Winter Quarterly, pg 17.