Levit cardiovascular lab

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. We are dedicated to developing new therapies to help cardiac patients by identifying, testing, and moving new therapies towards clinical use. We study stem cell therapies to prevent heart damage and promote repair. We use biomaterials to increase cell retention, increase efficacy, and target activity.

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Normal heart muscle

Damaged heart muscle after heart attack

Damage to heart muscle one hour after ischemia-reperfusion. Large amounts of neutrophils have already infiltrated the damaged heart muscle. Our lab is working on new therapies to minimize the damaging effects of these cells.

Learn more about Dr. Levit's research and the regenerative medicine program at Emory.

Projects

Stem cells

A major limitation to using stem cells to treat patients with cardiovascular diseases is the loss of transplanted cells almost immediately after they are delivered. The cells are washed out of the heart by blood flow, killed by the immune system, or fail to engraft. We are researching bio-compatible materials to support and direct the cells after they are implanted in the body. We focus on adult derived cell types easily obtained from most heart patients.

Immune modulation

Stem cells have the potential to heal tissue in many ways. Regenerating heart muscle lost after a heart attacks is extremely complex because the structure of the muscle cells, blood vessels and interstitum is complex. Stem cells can help heal the heart in a different way by softening the severity of the immune response. The immune system is necessary to remove the damaged cells, but often accelerates out of control causing more damage than necessary. We research cell therapies to reduce the magnitude of the immune response by preventing neutrophil infiltration and activation.

Biomaterials

The environment of the damaged heart on a cellular level is very hostile. There may be limited nutrients, low oxygen levels, disrupted cytoskeleton, and inflammation. In collaboration with several researchers at Emory and Georgia Institute of Technology, we are investigating biomaterials to support and direct delivered stem cells to the heart. We pair paracrine acting cells with materials that allow diffusion of growth factors and cytokines from the stem cells to the damaged heart.

Cardiac delivery

We believe that biomaterials will be needed to help stem cells work for heart disease. Many of these materials begin in a liquid state and later solidify into a gel. This property makes them difficult to deliver to the heart without open heart surgery. We are developing, safe, effective and minimally invasive devices to deliver stem cells and other therapies embedded in biomaterials to the heart.

Neutrophil images

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Neutrophils are the most common circulating white blood cell. The body can make 200,000,000,000 neutrophils a day (Kolaczkowska E, Nature Reviews Immunology, 2013). Neutrorhils are designed to kill bacteria that infect the body, but can cause damage to the heart because they are attracted to the injured tissue. Below are pictures of healthy neutrophils isolated from peripheral blood.

Encapsulation

Stem cells delivered to the heart cannot survive. With our collaborator W. Robert Taylor, MD, PhD we work on a technique called encapsulation. The stem cells are surrounded by a protective capsule of alginate that keeps the immune system from killing the cells and the blood from washing them out of the heart. The cytokines and growth factors that the cells make are small enough to diffuse out of the capsule, while the cells are kept safely inside. In this confocal microscopic picture, the live cells are stained green, and the rare dead cells are red.

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Neutrophils Interact with Mesenchymal Stem Cells Video

Neutrophils interact with mesenchymal stem cells normally in the bone marrow. The mesenchymal stem cells keep the neutrophils from activating and harming the bone marrow. We are researching ways to use this calming effect to treat patients after heart attacks. In these two movies, the small round cells are neutrophils that congregate and surround the larger, flat mesenchymal stem cells.

Lab Staff

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Rebecca Levit

Rebecca Levit, MD

Dr. Levit came to Emory in 2007 after graduating from the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine. She spent 7 years doing research and clinical training in cardiovascular disease. In 2014 she joined the faculty in the Division of Cardiology and is continuing her work on clinically translatable stem cell therapies for cardiovascular disease.

Julie Deppen

Juline Deppen

Juline Deppen has been a PhD student in the Levit lab since September 2016. She is a graduate student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at both Emory University and Georgia Tech. Originally from York, Pennsylvania, Juline graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. Juline is currently working to optimize the use of mesenchymal stem cells to treat peripheral artery disease, eventually translating the therapy into a large animal model.

Eric Shin, MD

Dr. Shin is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Levit lab. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 with a major in biomedical engineering with a focus on biomaterials. After completing medical school at Indiana University School of Medicine, he joined Emory in 2012 where he completed his residency in Internal Medicine and is now in the research component of a combined research-clinical fellowship in cardiology. He is currently studying the use of hydrogel assisted stem cell therapies for use in a small animal model of myocardial-ischemia reperfusion injury and the effects on

Dr. Shin is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the Levit lab. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 with a major in biomedical engineering with a focus on biomaterials. After completing medical school at Indiana University School of Medicine, he joined Emory in 2012 where he completed his residency in Internal Medicine and is now in the research component of a combined research-clinical fellowship in cardiology. He is currently studying the use of hydrogel assisted stem cell therapies for use in a small animal model of myocardial-ischemia reperfusion injury and the effects on neutrophil-mediated inflammation.

Lanfang Wang

Lanfang Wang

Dr. Lanfang Wang is technician in the Levit lab. She has been working in biomedical research for 20 years. She has experience with primary cell culture, cells encapsulation, immunofluorescence staining, western blot and other techniques.

Kai Xu

Kai Xu

Kai Xu is a medical student from Central South University School of Medicine in China. He has been a visiting medical student in the Levit lab since September 2016. He is currently working to illustrate the mechanisms that mesenchymal stem cells mediate neutrophil-derived  inflammation.

Lab alumni

Marina Zemskova, MS - University of Arizona

In the News

October 2017

Dr. Eric Shin won second place for his basic science poster during the Department of Medicine's 2017 Research Day. Read more

The Levit Lab published a paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology titled "A Minimally Invasive, Translational Method to Deliver Hydrogels to the Heart Through the Pericardial Space." Read more

November 2016

Dr. Eric Shin was chosen for an oral presentation at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions in New Orleans!

September 2016

Congratulations to the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory for being ranked the No.1 in U.S. News & World Report top undergraduate biomedical engineering program. Learn more

September 2016

Thanks to the International Society of Applied Cardiovascular Science for the great conference in Banff, Calgary.  Learn more

June 2016

The Levitt basic science cardiovascular lab was awarded a second year of funding and mentorship from the Coulter Foundation to develop new methods to deliver hydrogels to the heart!

July 2016

We are happy to present our work at the American Heart Association’s Basic Cardiovascular Science conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

October 2015

Awarded seed grant “Engineered mesenchymal stromal cells for enhancing lymphangiogenesis as a therapeutic for osteoarthritis

Co-PIs

  • Nick Willet (Emory/Georgia Tech)
  • J. Brandon Dixon (Georgia Tech)

Join Our Team

We are actively seeking a post doctoral fellow to join our lab.

Please e-mail Dr. Levit at rlevit@emory.edu if interested.