Milica Radisic, PhD, knew she'd found her scientific niche when she read about tissue engineering as an undergrad. This year's Libin Institute Tine Haworth Cardiovascular Research Day keynote speaker hopes her work will guide healing and tissue regeneration in the body — and works to help her students become successful in their careers.
Radisic is a professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Functional Cardiovascular Tissue Engineering (Tier 2). She will be presenting the Dr. E.R. Smith Lecture in Cardiovascular Research April 6, on bioengineering functional tissues for drug discovery and therapy.
Q: How did you become interested in research as a career?
A: I have been interested in science since I was a child, probably since I was in elementary school. It was just the question about what exactly in science I would do. At the end of my undergraduate degree at McMaster, I read an article in the Scientific American about tissue engineering, an emerging field at that time. It was clear to me at that moment that I had found the area I would like to work in as a scientist.
Q: Tell us about your research.
A: The long-term objective of my research is to enable cardiovascular regeneration through tissue engineering and development of new biomaterials. We are working with human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) as a source of beating heart cells for our engineered tissues. We are designing new biomaterials to guide cellular response, and we are investigating methods to make both cardiac muscle and vasculature. This work relies heavily on controlling cell environment through microfabrication. My research interests also include microfluidic cell separation and development of in vitro models for drug testing.
Q: Your current research focuses on tissue engineering. How will it help people?
A: It is not possible to take a biopsy from a human heart and make more beating heart cells from the biopsy. This is a big problem in drug discovery, as pharma uses cell lines and animal models that are not fully predictive of the human heart muscle response. Using the methods developed in my lab, it is now possible to make a human heart tissue starting from iPSC for drug discovery and safety testing. These models are already being used by pharma companies through our startup company TARA Biosystems.
Q: What are your ultimate career/research goals?
A: My goals are to provide better healthy and diseased human tissue models for discovery, as well as to develop new biomaterials that can guide healing and regeneration in the body.
Q: What is your favourite thing about being with students?
A: Working with grad students is the best part of my job. As my former chair, Dr. Doug Reeve, said, “You are surrounded by young people who are focused on self-improvement.” This is really unique to an academic position. Our students are young, energetic, creative, they have outstanding ideas and they want to succeed. It is really fantastic to be surrounded by them. They keep me young, and it is really for them that I work as hard as possible — to enable their career success.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to up-and-coming researchers?
A: To work on really important (and hard) problems that have not been solved. I think those projects give us the best returns.
Get more information on the Libin Institute’s Cardiovascular Research Day and register for a free ticket. Milica Radisic’s presentation will be on bioengineering functional tissues for drug discovery and therapy.
The Libin Institute’s Tine Haworth Cardiovascular Research Day is an annual event that showcases cutting-edge cardiovascular research presentations from external and internal speakers. The day also consists of a poster competition, “TOD” talks from Libin Institute trainees and speakers, and the Dr. E.R. Smith Lecture in Cardiovascular Research, named in honour of the former dean of the Cumming School of Medicine, Dr. Eldon Smith.