December 17, 2021

Ashley Blawas (Duke University)

Off the beating path: whale heart organoids as novel model for hypoxia tolerance

Fall 2021 Graduate Student Award in Social and Biological Determinants of Health


Rapid changes in tissue blood supply during clinical scenarios like cardiac arrest, stroke, or organ transplant often result in significant cell and tissue injury in humans. In fact, events of ischemia, or periods of reduced blood supply, are the leading cause of death globally. Unlike humans who are sensitive to the changes in oxygen and other nutrients that result from fluctuations in blood flow, diving marine mammals demonstrate a high tolerance for these changes which occur regularly during the oxygen-saving physiological response to diving. As part of the dive response, the body redistributes oxygen-rich blood and reduces the amount of blood flowing from the heart, leaving many tissues ischemic for brief or extended periods. Despite these events, marine mammals do not appear to suffer any apparent cell or tissue damage from changes in blood flow during dives. By studying changes in gene expression in a whale heart model generated from stem cells when oxygen and other nutrients are removed from its environment, we can determine which genes afford whales a high tolerance for changes in blood flow. We can then use these findings to identify genetic targets for novel treatments for tissue injury in humans during ischemia-related emergencies.