Dr. Schmidt and her research team, along with a new collaborator, Dr. Hideko Kasahara (Physiology, College of Medicine), were awarded a UF Research Opportunity Seed Grant entitled “Engineering Tissue Mimics to Investigate Congenital Heart Disease.” The overarching goal of this proposal is to engineer cardiac tissue mimics to investigate the role biophysical and biochemical cues play in the progression of congenital heart disease. Congenital cardiac anomalies are the most prevalent birth defects, affecting over 1% of live births; however, the mechanisms underlying cardiac maldevelopments in embryos are largely unknown. Specific mutations of the Nkx2-5 gene in humans can cause a variety of malformations with widely varied cardiac symptoms from mild (near-normal function) to severe (heart failure). This variation in symptoms suggests non-genetic (epigenetic) factors in utero play a key role in aggravating the disease progression and severity. This work will use Dr. Kasahara’s Nkx2-5 knock-in mouse model in conjunction with Dr. Schmidt’s expertise in creation of tuned biomaterials to investigate the effects of biophysical and biochemical cues on severity of disease pathology both in vitro and in vivo.