Professor who created beating heart tissue wins NSERC Steacie Fellowship

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Milica Radisic hopes to see stem cells replace heart cells

U of T engineer Milica Radisic has won one of six E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowships.

The competitive and prestigious fellowship is given by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) to enhance the career development of outstanding and highly promising university faculty who are earning a strong international reputation for original research.

Radisic will hold the fellowship, which comes with a $250,000 research grant, for two years.

Appointed in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry and the Institute for Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, Radisic is a tissue engineer working on using stem cells to grow new organs. Her work focuses on creating samples of both healthy and diseased human heart tissue to use as models for drug discovery and testing, though she ultimately hopes to see stem cells used to replace heart tissue. Her team recently discovered a way to create beating heart cells from stem cells using electrical pulses to mimic the heart rate of fetal humans (the study was published in Nature Methods).

Radisic, who accepted the Steacie on behalf of all the recipients at a ceremony in Ottawa, thanked NSERC for investing in projects that require long-term vision and commitment.

“Let me draw on my own research as an example,” she said. “Every year, nearly one million people in North America suffer from myocardial infarction, known as heart attacks. It is thanks to NSERC’s support that my laboratory is able to pioneer new types of bio-engineering approaches for creating heart tissue and vasculature in the lab, that could one day be used to mend your heart, mend the hearts of your loved ones, and those of many generations to come.”

“Professor Radisic is pushing the boundaries of science with her ambitious and creative work,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research and innovation). “I’m delighted to see her accomplishments recognized with such a prestigious award.”

Radisic, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering, was recently named a scientist to watch by Scientist Magazine, and holds a Connaught Innovation Award, one of U of T’s leading internal research awards.

“Milica Radisic’s groundbreaking work on cardiovascular tissue engineering has the potential to revolutionize treatment for the millions of people worldwide affected by cardiovascular disease,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Milica for this remarkable recognition and thank the selection committee of the Steacie Prize for providing her with this fellowship to advance her research program.“

Jenny Hall is a writer with the office of the vice-president (research & innovation) at the University of Toronto.

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