Best of 2021 Stories

Bringing New Life to Damaged Hearts


“Our work represents a major clinical breakthrough that could lead to a treatment to reverse heart failure and effectively cure the number one cause of death in America.” – James F. Martin, MD, PhD, Director, Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory

Over his career as a researcher, Dr. Martin has authored more than 170 peer-reviewed papers in top scientific journals such as Nature, Science, Cell, Developmental Cell, PLOS Genetics, Development, and PNAS (H-index 79). Recently inducted into the 2021 class of Senior Members at The National Academy of Inventors (NAI), he holds 9 U.S. patents and applications, including one provisional application. Dr. Martin’s research has received support from numerous granting agencies and foundations, including the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Department of Defense; the State of Texas; Vivian L. Smith Foundation; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Saving tiny Hearts Society; Roderick D. MacDonald Research Fund; American Heart Association; LeDucq Foundation’s Transatlantic Networks of Excellence in Cardiovascular Research; and Additional Ventures. 

Dr. Martin and his team in the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory share the goal of providing new treatment options for patients with heart failure or heart injury and those born with congenital heart defects, especially those with severely underdeveloped left hearts. The team’s fundamental discovery of the Hippo “stop growth” genetic pathway and their insights into its molecular mechanisms have provided a novel approach to heart muscle regeneration. In animal models of heart disease, inhibition of this pathway leads to “direct cardiogenesis” and repair of injured heart muscle by stimulating the multiplication of existing heart cells. In keeping with THI’s historical focus on translational research – transforming laboratory discoveries into new therapies and medical devices – Dr. Martin, his team, and their collaborators have developed a targeted gene therapy that shows promising heart-repair results in animals. Dr. Martin also seeks to use cutting-edge gene editing technology to develop novel cardiac therapies.

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