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Finding Collaborators: from London to Stuttgart

Posted by , on 28 May 2015

I’m Dr Rie Saba, a postdoc at Translational Cardiovascular Therapeutics, William Harvey Research Institute, Queen Mary University of London (UK), studying the role of endocardium in the mammalian heart development.

The endocardium contributes to cardiogenesis by playing many crucial roles, such as regulating trabeculation and atrioventricular canal formation. However, our knowledge of the early phase of endocardium development is still limited, and an in vitro system able to induce the formation of endocardial cells from ESCs/iPSCs has not yet been reported due to difficulties reproducing the in vivo conditions. The endocardium is exposed to mechanical stresses from blood flow and the beating of the myocardium immediately after its appearance as the endocardial cell layer in the mouse heart tube formation. To understand the molecular mechanism of this developmental process further, I wanted to establish a system to induce endocardial cells from ESCs/iPSCs under such mechanical stresses.

Last September, while I was looking for equipment to culture cells under these conditions, I attended the Company of Biologists workshop ‘From Stem Cells to Human Development’, which took place in the UK, There I met Ms Nian Shen, who was presenting her poster next to me. She is an engineer who develops bioreactor systems that allow the culture of cells under controllable flow and strain stresses, and had succeeded in inducing cardiomyocyte differentiation from ESCs effectively with this system. That’s it! I had a solution for my problem!

Nian is a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Katja Schenke-Layland’, at Frau nhofer IGB Stuttgart, a non-profit research institute located on the campus of the University of Stuttgart (Germany). Katja’s group develops critical applications for the fields of tissue engineered biomaterials, women’s health, cardiovascular regenerative medicine and optical technologies, and accepts students and guest researchers from all around the world. They kindly accepted my offer of collaborative research, so I visited Stuttgart this April, funded by a Company of Biologists’ Travelling Fellowship. The laboratory is really well organized, the lab members always gave me attentive support and we had many helpful discussions about my project.


Centre of the Universität Stuttgart. In the large campus on the hill, many research institutes are clustered.


Despite being such a well-established laboratory, my experiments did not progress as in the research proposal, and I had to reconsider the plan and the experimental protocol. I hadn’t estimated the period of trouble shooting, and five weeks were too short to obtain some conclusive data! It frequently happens that a published protocol is not reproducible, and I have experienced the difficulty of reproducing the same experiments in a different place when doing it by myself. Fortunately I could obtain some samples from my final experiment in Stuttgart, and am analyzing these in London.


 Universität Stuttgart is surrounded by a forest. Many people enjoy it in and around the campus, by walking, jogging, and biking.

In Stuttgart I had a really good time communicating with researchers that share my interest in cardiogenesis, but have a different perspective and expertise. We are now planning the next opportunity to progress our collaborative research further. I would like to thank all the people involved for their kind support, and especially to the Company of Biologists for giving me this opportunity.


Nian (left) and I (right) in the culture room of Fraunhofer IGB.

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Categories: Funding, Research

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