Kevin Costa, CSO and scientific co-founder at Novoheart (novoheart.com), a stem cell and biotechnology tissue engineering company, delivers a wealth of information on the study of heart problems and diseases via tissue experimentation. Costa is director of cardiovascular cell and tissue engineering at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Costa received his training at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Additionally, he was a faculty member and associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University. Through extensive work in biomedical engineering, with advanced study in cell and tissue biomechanics and cardiac tissue engineering, Costa developed one of the earliest engineered cardiac tissue systems. His work is funded through many prestigious grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Whitaker Foundation, and more.
Novoheart’s primary goal is to innovate and impact drug discovery and the evolution of heart therapeutics with their proprietary bioengineered human heart constructs, to advance them further, into transplantable grafts for cell-based regenerative heart therapies with significantly improved safety as well as efficacy. By growing pieces of tissues that can emulate certain aspects of the human heart, Novoheart can perform laboratory testing to better understand how drugs and therapeutics might interact with a human heart. Costa explains how 90% of drugs ultimately fail and never make it to clinics to help patients, even after a decade of work with several billion dollars spent on research. He discusses how animal testing is perhaps the primary reason for drug failures in development, for animal testing is not exceptionally predictive of how a particular drug will work in a human body. And for fear of potentially extreme cardiac side effects, human testing is rarely if ever done; thus, Novoheart’s testing on their laboratory-produced human tissues allows for more reliable testing that will be indicative of the actual human use of a drug.
The cell and tissue engineering expert discusses many of the areas Novoheart is innovating. One such area is Novoheart’s trademarked MyHeart platform, which involves multiple assays that vary in complexity. He explains that heart disease and cardiac toxicity can arise in the electrical and contractile properties of the heart, thus Novoheart has designed engineered tissues to directly address problems and issues that pertain to both of the heart’s major properties.
Novoheart has developed a proprietary method for differentiating human stem cells into the ventricular myocytes of the heart muscle cells that work with the large pumping ventricles of the heart. Their focus is on these types of cells as the ventricle area is where arrhythmias, cardiomyopathies, and contractile defects occur in human patients. Costa discusses the specifics of various branches of their work. He details how their methods allow them to gather detailed real information on contractility due to sensors that are integrated into their tissues, thus allowing them to measure twitch force and other variables that would be significant factors in assessing a real human heart’s function and force, etc. And in regard to pump function, they devised a way to grow tissue around a silicone balloon to measure pressure and volume.
The biomedical engineering expert discusses the value of laboratory-based trials for testing drug effectiveness, as the lab environment allows for optimization and experimentation to hone a more ideal solution, whereas, in human drug trials, any failures will generally end the trial immediately. Costa gives an overview of some areas of testing that he is particularly excited about, such as methods they have developed to study assays created from diseased patient cells. Their process will allow them to study the efficacy of compounds on their tissues that show symptoms of the disease in order to find methods or treatments to end those symptoms, and then utilize that information to treat real patients. The work is complex, but Costa’s team strives to develop and innovate various methods to study diseases that impact heart function and performance, and as their work advances he hopes to continue to discover new means to improve heart health.