Get to know the faculty! A Q&A session was held with bioengineering associate professor Jeffrey Jacot to give an overview of the major works in project at the Jacot Lab for Pediatric Regenerative Medicine and his goals as the program director for the BIOE graduate program.
By Kahla Weber, BS-BIOE
Kahla: What are some of the current works in progress at your lab?
Dr. Jacot: We are looking at structural heart defects in the formation of heart structure. One big project is to make laboratory grown heart tissue that can be used for surgery to structurally change hearts with congenital heart defects. We want to make living tissue from an infant’s own cells. We’ve been getting cells from amniotic fluid…which are genetically matched to the infant. We are also working on the right biomaterials for both the interaction with the immune system and the interaction with all the heart cells and the mechanics necessary to really make a functional heart wall. We’re also working with other growth factors or extracellular matrix materials that be incorporated into the patch and released by the patch that will mediate that response but then also make the native heart cells more proliferative and functional and also work with the vasculature and make sure this patch becomes vascularized so that cells will survive. We’ve been looking at other ways of mediating the cell-based generation. One of my students is focused on working with exosomes and extracellular vesicles…and using this for both the idea of the heart patch but we think it could also extend to a lot of other areas. The other main part of the lab is looking at the basic science questions of “why do Certain genetic backgrounds predispose infants to having a structural congenital heart defect when it is not an exact 1:1 correlation; not all infants with these genetics have heart defects.” We have lots of data on individuals with Down syndrome…the AV canal has malformations…we are looking at signaling processes. The other one we are actively looking at right now is Noonan syndrome with specific mechanotransductive signaling expressed in cardiomyocytes…it is highly associated with structural heart defects and hypertrophy…We are studying laboratory-grown cells to understand all these processes.
Kahla: What has been the biggest accomplishment of the Jacot Lab?
Dr. Jacot: Each successive study builds on the next—it’s a progress that’s being made. There have been a lot of really exciting studies that have come out.
Kahla: What has been your most notable recent publication?
Dr. Jacot: We just had a publication that came out last week…we use gel, a modified polyurethane fibrin that is pre-vascularized…It is grown in the lab with smooth muscle cells and endothelial cells. We implanted them into adult rats as the top half of the right ventricle free wall and replaced it with the tissue in our lab…we found we did get blood vessels and blood flow to the area. There was recruitment of some cells (myocytes). But this was a highly significant improvement in right ventricle function versus a fixed pericardium. (link)
Kahla: What is your biggest goal for this academic year for Jacot Lab?
Dr. Jacot: There’s the science and there’s the people. One huge academic goal is two Ph.D. students set to graduate this academic year. In the next semester there is a postdoc is wanting to get a faculty position. One big goal is that the people in the lab achieve their goals and go on to do great things. Scientifically: I really hope we can define whether it’s growth factors or secreted exosomes from some specific cell types or other cytokines. We have a lot of stuff to really understand what the best strategy is…I’m really looking forward to working on ways to understand how in Down syndrome the stiffness in the developing heart is changing and understand what effects that has on heart structure and trying to get more cell types and look at the cell-to-cell communication…there is significant signaling between endocardial cells to other cells in the heart…also disrupted in Down syndrome…and being able to study that is really significant.
Kahla: What are your goals as Program Director for the BIOE Graduate Program?
Dr. Jacot: Bioengineering is a really broad field. Academically in our graduate programs we haven’t really focused it. So with combinations of different tracks and certificates and collaborations with other departments where we really have cohorts of students who are working cross-departmentally, I think if we focus recruitment to certain areas we can improve upon both the didactic education and I think that’ll make the program a lot easier to advertise, and for people to understand what our big strengths are. Being relatively new and still very small there’s not a lot out there that shows our strengths even though our big strengths are the institutes and departments and we are at the medical school. The best research in bioengineering is here in this department in Colorado and the medical school provides translation for that research. It’s a very unique education experience for the students. Focusing our program in those strength areas will help with that.
Kahla: How many graduate students do you have this semester and what are some projects that they’re working on?
Dr. Jacot: I have 4 PhD students; two will graduating this academic year. One dissertation is on the manufacture of laboratory grown tissue and differentiating cell structure. Developing a more structured, more in-vivo like cell environment. The other dissertation will be on both the signaling and the effects we saw on pre-vascularized gels and figuring out what effect that was having on cardiomyocytes. He’s also looking at molecules that can be added into the gel/artificial tissues…what can be added to recruit more cells to the tissue and get something that becomes muscle and not scar. I have 2 masters students. One is working on epicardial cells for Down syndrome and the other working on Noonan that causes hypertrophy and structural defects. I have 1 undergraduate, sophomore, helping on extracellular vesicles and understanding that we can get the same effects with those as we can with stem cells.
Kahla: What has been your biggest personal accomplishment this last year?
Dr. Jacot: Really the last 18 months has been trying to keep things from falling apart.
Kahla: Any words of wisdom to students currently completing their BIOE degree?
Dr. Jacot: I think it’s a great time to be completing a bioe program; I think biotech is still getting bigger and is going to keep expanding. There are a lot of opportunities. The biggest struggle is focusing on one area. It requires so many different skills. Something that is more incorporating lots of different areas.