Scientific Research Project Title

Repairing the heart through cardiomyocyte proliferation (REPHEART)

Research Institution

University of Southern Denmark

Dep. for Clinical Biochemistry and Pharmacology, Institute of Molecular Medicine, Dep. for Cardiovascular and Renal Research.


Regenerative Medicine


Phone: +45 6011 3975

Research leader

Ditte Caroline Andersen

Senior Researcher/Associate Professor, Cand Scient.(Biomedicine), PhD., born 1976

Project title

Heart Regeneration through induction of cardiomyocyte division (REPHEART)

What is your project about?

REPHEART aims at finding new targets for future treatment of the large group of patients who each year suffer from a heart attack following occlusion of the hearts own blood supply. In these patients, the dead muscle cells, referred to as cardiomyocytes, are not compensated for by formation of new cardiomyocytes because the heart specifically lacks stem cells otherwise present in many tissues. In contrast, zebrafish have an amazing capacity to fully regenerate their hearts through cardiomyocyte division, and REPHEART thus aims to compare cardiomyocytes from zebrafish, mouse, and man to identify genes accomplishing cardiomyocyte division in the damaged zebrafish heart. This knowledge will then be translated into mammals in order to induce regeneration of the mammalian heart, first in mouse,
and on a long-term in man.

Ditte Caroline Andersen - Heart-DCA SA.tif

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

Many tissues in the human organism regenerate to accomplish tissue homeostasis, where degraded cells are replaced by new functional cells to maintain the human body healthy. Since I was a student I have had an interest in how these regenerative processes also repair tissues after damage and disease, and at the end of my PhD I wondered why skeletal muscle maintains a regenerative capacity while heart muscle does not, resulting in an increase in mortality and a lowering of life quality in patients having a heart attack.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Very recently, we have developed a strategy and method to isolate cardiomyocytes based on their division status, and by a subsequent single cell RNA sequencing we then enable identification of gene programs in each isolated cardiomyocyte. The challenge now is to use this method and identify gene programs for dividing cardiomyocytes in the damaged zebrafish heart that are absent in mammalian hearts. This requires complex bioinformatic approaches comparing species and developmental stages, and the establishment of cell screening methods as well as new genetic animal models.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

Currently, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the world, and heart attack is a major contributor. Gene programs identified by REPHEART will remain potential new targets for developing drugs that may re-establish the pool of lost cardiomyocytes, and thereby maintain heart pump function lowing mortality and increasing life quality of the many heart patients.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

A Sapere Aude research grant will open up new exciting opportunities for me, both during the grant period but also in the future. First and foremost it will allow me to implement the knowledge and setup I have established together with my research group, and hereby complete the REPHEART project. In parallel, it will give me an opportunity to maintain and develop the excellent young researchers and technicians that currently form my group. My major personal objective is to reach the forefront of the research field of regenerative heart medicine, and hereby establish my research group as an important international player that promotes Danish Research in general.

Background and personal life

As a mother of two small children, three grown step children, and a research career with all it takes, my spare time is mainly dedicated to my family. We love our garden, a journey into nature, and as often as we can we travel with our tent to other countries with no specific goal, except relaxing and being curious to explore what we meet and see.

City of your current residence:

High school:
Esbjerg High School

Check out DCA-lab