This award acknowledges Robert Kelly’s work on heart morphogenesis, in particular the discovery of the second heart field (SHF) of cardiac progenitor cells.
A study published in Developmental Cell in 2001 was the first to show that the mammalian heart grows by progressive addition of cells from outside the early heart tube. The SHF is now known to give rise to a large part of the heart – the right ventricle, cardiac outflow region and atrial myocardium – and SHF-derived parts of the heart are hotspots of congenital heart defects (CHD) that affect 1 in 100 births.
21 years after the discovery of the SHF, research into this cell population continues to yield new insights into the pathological mechanisms underlying CHD.
Established at the IBDM in 2005, the Kelly group has characterised transcriptional regulators and signalling pathways controlling SHF differentiation and deployment to the cardiac poles.
For example, the group has dissected the role of the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome gene TBX1 in regulating the development of a specific SHF subpopulation implicated in the CHD tetralogy of Fallot. A current focus of the team is the boundary of the SHF where ventricular and atrial septa arise, defects of which account for over 50% of CHD.
The award, which will allow recruitment of a postdoctoral fellow, reflects the contributions of all past and present members of the “Genetic control of heart development” team as well as the IBDM imaging and animal facilities. It also highlights the importance of fundamental research in the area of cardiology, in particular into mechanisms of heart development, at Aix Marseille University.