VIMM scientist Milena Bellin receives 2 million euros from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC Consolidator Grant is for promising researchers with seven to 12 years of experience since competing their PhD. They can use the grant of up to 2m euros to fund their team of researchers and support staff for a period of five years.

Milena Bellin

Bellin will use her ERC Consolidator Grant to investigate human cardiac diseases with mini hearts from a 3D printer. These hearts will be made from human-induced pluripotent stem cells: cells that can still grow into different types of cell. Bellin has already succeeded in making such mini hearts, but wants to improve the model by including cells such as nerve and immune cells. The model will then help determine the cause of complex heart diseases, and will ultimately help in the development of new therapies.

With the ERC grant Bellin will develop a more complete model by adding nerves and cells of the immune system to the mini hearts. This will allow her to investigate many aspects of different cardiac diseases, with the ultimate goal of developing new treatments. Bellin chooses a multidisciplinary approach in which she will combine different techniques, from stem cell technology to biophysical assays and tissue engineering. Among other things, she will investigate whether the model can demonstrate the role of specific cell types in the development of cardiac disease. In addition, she will test two therapeutic strategies, including gene therapy.

This technique can revolutionise the way we study cardiac diseases, but there are still many cell types missing in the model,” says Milena Bellin, group leader  at VIMM and reseracher at Padua University. With this model, they could establish that stromal cells of the heart contribute to problems of the rhythm and sudden death of patients with the rare cardiac disease called arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy.” However, the application of these models in precision medicine still needs to be proven,” says Bellin.