Kenneth R. Chien group

Professor Chien's lab is split jointly between the Solna (CMB) and the Huddinge (ICMC) campuses at Karolinska Institutet.

The central scientific interest of the Chien lab is to understand heart development at the molecular and cellular level, with the ultimate goal of applying the developmental principles, logic, pathways, technology, and model systems to unravel human heart disease.

The human heart, composed of highly diverse cell types, must be assembled into discrete anatomic and functional structures at the earliest stages of fetal life. While the anatomy and physiology of the human cardiovascular system has been extensively studied, the normal development of human heart and dysregulation in disease are poorly understood at the molecular and cellular level.

Our research group plans to provide new insight into several areas of human cardiogenesis, ranging from molecular decoding of human heart development to developing completely novel technologies to control gene expression in the intact heart in vivo.

Such work is highly interdisciplinary, breaking new ground at the intersection of stem cell biology, developmental biology, biotechnology of modified RNA therapeutics, in vivo delivery, large animal model systems, and cardiovascular biology and medicine.

Professor Chien's lab is split jointly between the Solna (CMB) and the Huddinge (ICMC) campuses at Karolinska Institutet. Although the two labs act as one, CMB focuses primarily on molecular biology, while ICMC is more translational research. This arrangement gives the Chien lab a unique advantage in the field of regenerative cardiology.

Keywords: Stem cells, Developmental Biology, Heart Disease, Heart Development, Genetics, Biotechnology

Group members

Kenneth Chien Professor, MD PhD, Group leader

Kristine Bylund, Lab Manager

Jonathan Clarke, MD, Post-Doc

Erwin De Genst, Post Doc, PhD

Jay Donovan, Project Coordinator

Katarina Drakenberg, Administrative Coordinator, PhD 

Elif Eroglu, Post-Doc, PhD

Kylie Foo, Post-Doc, PhD

Raffaella Giugliano, Project Coordinator

Xiaobing He, Senior Lab Manager, PhD

Miia Lehtinen, Post-Doc

Chuen Yan Leung, Post-Doc, PhD

Eduarde Rohner, PhD Student

Makoto Sahara MD PhD, Research Associate

Federica Santoro, Post-Doc, PhD

Jesper Sohlmer, Lab Technician

Yat Long Tsoi, PhD Student

Nevin Witman, Post-Doc, PhD

Jiejia Xu, PhD Student

Chikai Zhou, PhD Student

Mimmi Mononen, R&D Trainee


Decoding Human Cardiogenesis

Using various approaches to study heart cell lineage and characterization of progenitor cell types in murine NHP and human stem cell models, we can generate an atlas of cell type intermediates in the developing human heart. Through cell labeling, we will establish cell lineage in heart explants, cultured in vitro, to view how cell types relate during development. This, complemented by in vitro cardiac differentiation of human and NHP ES and iPS cells, will allow us to explore the effects on cardiac differentiation and cell lineage of patient-derived congenital heart disease mutations.

Tissue Engineering Heart Patches

Our ability to purify, clone, and obtain semi continuous lines of human multipotent islet positive heart progenitors from human ES cell lines represents an opportunity to generate components from a single cell. We are examining the ability of human MICPs to generate cardiac muscle, smooth muscle, and endothelial cells in response to defined paracrine cues in reconstituted heart tissue engineered synthetic and biological matrices. Our goal is to implement this technology to clinical niches where a generated heart muscle "patch" can be utilized where advanced therapies are currently lacking.

Defining the Human "Vasculome"

We aim to unravel the interplay between the vascular system and the heart at the molecular level by identifying critical mediators of heart development and creating a molecular encyclopedia of cell types in the vasculature - primarily secreted proteins. Recent evidence suggests that vascular signals may play a key role in tissue regeneration and we will explore the role of these signals in the process of heart repair and regeneration.

A Novel Paradigm to Restore Gene Function

We have established a new mode of delivery, based on chemically modified mRNA, that escapes triggering innate immunity signals and allows for non-integrating, transient, and targeted expression in the intact heart and skeletal muscle; currently utilized to express VEGF in mouse models. We are building a library of stabilized mRNAs for the human "secretome" that can be tested in animal models for various disease situations, as well as in primary human cell model systems that are available at KI. This mRNA technology will help evaluate the function of known and novel paracrine and intracellular signals in developmental, physiological, regenerative, and disease related animal models (small and large) of human cardiac disease.

Selected publications

Driving vascular endothelial cell fate of human multipotent Isl1+ heart progenitors with VEGF modified mRNA.
Lui K, Zangi L, Silva E, Bu L, Sahara M, Li R, et al
Cell Res. 2013 Oct;23(10):1172-86

Modified mRNA directs the fate of heart progenitor cells and induces vascular regeneration after myocardial infarction.
Zangi L, Lui K, von Gise A, Ma Q, Ebina W, Ptaszek L, et al
Nat. Biotechnol. 2013 Oct;31(10):898-907

A HCN4+ cardiomyogenic progenitor derived from the first heart field and human pluripotent stem cells.
Später D, Abramczuk M, Buac K, Zangi L, Stachel M, Clarke J, et al
Nat. Cell Biol. 2013 Sep;15(9):1098-106

Generation of functional ventricular heart muscle from mouse ventricular progenitor cells.
Domian I, Chiravuri M, van der Meer P, Feinberg A, Shi X, Shao Y, et al
Science 2009 Oct;326(5951):426-9

Human ISL1 heart progenitors generate diverse multipotent cardiovascular cell lineages.
Bu L, Jiang X, Martin-Puig S, Caron L, Zhu S, Shao Y, et al
Nature 2009 Jul;460(7251):113-7