THI’s Dr. Rich Gang Li Wins Award at Weinstein Conference

Texas Heart Institute’s Rich Gang Li, PhD, recently earned the award for “Best Oral Presentation” for his platform talk at the international Weinstein Cardiovascular Development & Regeneration Conference, held May 12-14, 2022, in Marseille, France. The award recognized Dr. Li’s presentation titled “Spatial transcriptomics reveal a colocalized cellular triad required for heart renewal,” given during the conference’s session on Regeneration: Inflammation and Signaling, co-chaired by THI’s James Martin, MD, PhD, and Francesca Rochais, PhD, of Aix Marseille University. Dr. Li and his collaborators have determined that interactions among at least three specific cell types are needed for heart tissue renewal and repair.


The research conference is named after Constance Weinstein, PhD, a biochemist who championed the field of cardiac developmental biology as Deputy Division Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Cardiac Functions Branch. After inviting leading scientists in that research area to help write a Request for Applications (RFA)—issued in 1984 as “Fundamental Studies of Cardiac Morphogenesis”—she began holding annual meetings for all grantees. These annual meetings continued even after the specific RFA ended, becoming the “Weinstein Meeting” in 1995. In 2004, the meeting became an international event, held every 4 years. Experts in cardiac biology and development come together to share and discuss their research findings, with their scientific exchange contributing substantially to the current understanding of heart formation and congenital cardiac diseases.


Dr. Li is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory and the McGill Gene Editing Laboratory, working closely with Dr. Martin, Director of the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory, and Xiao Li, PhD, Assistant Investigator in the Gene Editing Laboratory. The researchers and their collaborators are using their molecular understanding of heart development pathways to devise new treatments for heart disease, including the use of gene therapies for heart failure that boost the heart’s ability to repair itself. The team seeks new therapeutic options for patients with heart damage, like those who have experienced a heart attack, or those who have malformed hearts due to a congenital defect. To that end, they are interested in the gene expression programs that regulate heart development, the interactions of various heart and immune cell types within heart tissue, and the ways in which those interactions are disrupted in patients with heart failure. They are using state-of-the-art technologies, including single-cell genomics and genome editing, to investigate the heart’s responses to injury.  These insights will help the team improve heart failure prevention strategies and develop new treatments for heart diseases.


Dr. Li’s work is an integral part of this research effort. He was recently awarded an American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the role of innate immunity in cardiac renewal. At the Weinstein Conference, Dr. Li shared findings about the co-localization of heart cell types—specifically cardiomyocytes, fibroblasts, and macrophages—within the cardiac microenvironment during regeneration and repair. He explained, “Our findings suggest that at least three types of cells are required for cardiac renewal, specifically cardiomyocyte, fibroblast, and macrophage cell subpopulations. We identified marker genes for these special populations, which allows us to study them further and eventually develop therapies to amplify these pro-renewal cells following cardiac injury.”


The therapeutic potential of these scientific insights is significant. According to Dr. Martin, “Dr. Li is using the most cutting-edge methods to make important discoveries relating to cardiomyocyte renewal. His work will lead to better heart disease treatments in the future.” Darren Woodside, PhD, THI Vice President for Research, agrees, saying, “I’m extremely pleased to congratulate Rich on his recent accolades at the Weinstein Cardiovascular Development & Regeneration Conference. Winning the award for best overall oral presentation at such an elite gathering of scientists is a truly outstanding achievement, and a testament to the cutting-edge, impactful work that he and his colleagues in the Cardiomyocyte Renewal Lab and the McGill Gene Editing Lab consistently produce. I’m looking forward to following this work as it develops.”


“Spatial transcriptomics reveal a colocalized cellular triad required for heart renewal.”  Gang (Rich) Li, Xiao Li, Francisco Grisanti, Yuka Morikawa, Fansen Meng, Jong Kim, Bing Xie, Shijie Liu, Md Abul Hassan Samee, James Martin.  Weinstein Cardiovascular Development & Regeneration Conference, Marseille, France, May 12-14, 2022.

By Daynene Vykoukal, PhD