Discovery sheds light on heart tissue regeneration

Voot P. Yin

Voot Yin in his laboratory at the Kathryn Davis Center for Regenerative Medicine at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDIBL

BAR HARBOR — An MDI Biological Laboratory scientist has made new discoveries about the mechanisms underlying the regeneration of heart tissue.

The work by Assistant Professor Voot P. Yin raises hopes that drugs can be identified to help the body grow muscle cells and remove scar tissue, important steps in the regeneration of heart tissue following injury and heart attacks.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the western world. Yin is using zebrafish to study the regeneration of heart tissue because of the amazing capacity of these common aquarium fish to regenerate the form and function of almost any body part, including heart, bone, skin and blood vessels. In contrast, the adult mammalian cardiovascular system has limited regenerative capacity.

“The concept of organ regeneration fascinates the public, which tends to view it as science fiction,” Yin said. “But the zebrafish heart robustly regenerates missing or damaged tissue in as little as 30 to 60 days. Humans share the same genetic material; the same genetic program resides in each of our cells. Our goal is to understand how zebrafish do this so we can unleash our own repair mechanisms through the reawakening of our dormant genetic codes.”

Yin and other scientists conducting research in the institution’s Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Medicine study tissue repair, regeneration and aging in a diverse range of organisms that have robust mechanisms to repair and regenerate tissue.

Yin’s recent work is a continuation of earlier work identifying an experimental drug, ZF143, that accelerates the rate of tissue repair in damaged heart and limb tissue. He is the cofounder and chief scientific officer of Novo Biosciences, a for-profit spinoff of the MDI Biological Laboratory, the goal of which is to realize the therapeutic potential of ZF143 and other drugs that speed tissue healing and stimulate the regeneration of lost and damaged body parts.

“Our goal is to move scientific discovery from the laboratory into the clinic through our for-profit spinoff, Novo Biosciences, as well as other commercial ventures,” said Kevin Strange, president of the laboratory and cofounder with Yin of Novo Biosciences. “It is our hope that Dr. Yin’s research will lead to additional potential therapeutic agents like ZF143 to reactivate mechanisms for the repair and regeneration of damaged heart muscle tissue in humans.”

Yin’s research also has implications for the treatment of other diseases involving muscle damage, including muscular dystrophy.

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