Advancing the Understanding and Treatment of Heart Diseases

Successful thesis defense within the EMAPS-Cardio consortium

EMAPS-Cardio researcher Federica Lamberto has successfully defended her doctoral thesis. Find out more about her research focus, achieved results and advice for early-career researchers in our brief interview below. Congratulations to Federica!

What was the central focus of your dissertation? What are the main results? The central focus of my dissertation was to investigate the alterations of environmentally relevant doses of Bisphenol A (BPA) during early cardiomyocyte differentiation, using a human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived model. I generated human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs) in vitro, and the main results provided information of disturbances caused by BPA, such as: decreased contraction frequency; changes of proteome profile linked to phenotypical alterations of hiPSC-CMs; and a higher vulnerability of hiPSC-CMs treated with BPA under hypoxia-reoxygenation insult.

How does this contribute to the progress of the EMAPS-Cardio project? The EMAPS-Cardio project aims to develop new approaches for early detection and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, these findings contribute to the current investigation of early biomarkers of cardiovascular alterations that can arise due to early-life chemical exposure. This is crucial for identifying new targets and strategies for cardiovascular disease prevention during fetal development.

Federica Lamberto

EMAPS-researcher Federica Lamberto completed her thesis while working for the consortium partner Biotalentum Ltd.

What tasks or responsibilities were you responsible for in the EMAPS-Cardio team at Biotalentum? Firstly, I was responsible for establishing an in vitro hiPSC-CM model to assess cardiac (developmental) toxicity as a tool for regulators to characterise and integrate new strategies for risk assessment of (environmental) chemicals. Then, since differentiation methods still need further improvement to reach the desired degree of maturity of hiPSC-CMs, my research mainly focused on establishing a novel maturation protocol. Electrospun scaffolds and miniaturised bioreactors were used to provide electrical and mechanical stimulation to the cells, to obtain more complex platforms to study adult-like organotypic models in healthy and diseased states.

What were some challenging and/or rewarding experiences you made while working on your dissertation? I think the most challenging experience was the establishment of the model in vitro. A lot of time was spent on stabilising the differentiation protocol, characterising the cells and ensuring to have functional hiPSC-CMs. Also, it was difficult to select the BPA dosages and the way of exposure in vitro, to mimic as much as possible a real-life scenario. At the end, it was rewarding to find that the results were in line with previous observations, and these new findings add valuable information to the current understanding of BPA effects on fetal cardiomyocytes, mostly limited to acute exposure using supraphysiological concentrations.

What are some of your goals for the future? My research goals are mainly focused on developing new approach methodologies, alternative to animal experimentations, and also to assess the toxicity of drugs and chemicals for regulatory purposes. I am motivated to further fine-tune in vitro testing methods, including the use of 3D methodologies, to better mimic the complexity of the organ architecture. I desire to always improve my skills and develop new ones to reach my research goals.

Any advice that you might give early-career researchers? From my personal experience, I would advise early-career researchers to understand what motivates them the most, what they are curious about in a specific field, and to not be afraid of making mistakes – experiments are never flawless! Enjoy science, knowledge, and new experiences!