ECCARD (Expertise Center for Cardiovascular Development and Disease)

ECCARD (Expertise Center for Cardiovascular Development and Disease) is the continuation of the Cardiovascular Research Group formerly headed by Adriana Gittenberger-de Groot (emeritus since 2010), but still active as collaborator. For several decades, the hallmark of the group has been research on cardiovascular development and congenital heart disease, from the embryonic stage to adult life.

The ultimate aim is to understand clinically relevant disorders from a developmental point of view, to improve diagnostics, therapy and the identification of preventive measures. To provide more mechanistic insight, the study of human material has been paralleled in the last 20 years by several animal models. Analyses includes a range of immunohistochemistry and molecular biological approaches, together with electrophysiology, optical mapping and ultrasound evalutions of embryonic cardiac function. New insights into hemodynamic signalling and the distinction of genetic and epigenetic (environmental) disorders of the cardiovascular system has lead to the incorporation and evaluation of adult cardiac diseases (arrhythmias and aneurysm formation) next to our developmental studies.

Senior researchers:

Marco C de Ruiter PhD

Monique Jongbloed, MD PhD

Margot M Bartelings MD PhD 

PhD students:

Annemarie Vegh, MSc
Vera van der Pol, MSc
Joshua Peterson, MSc

Research technicians:

Bert LJ Wisse , BSc
Conny van Munsteren BSc

Current research topics and approaches

The group focuses on the following topics:

  • Development and clinical aspects of the arterial roots (i.e.bicuspid aortic valves and aortic aneurysms).
  • Development of the cardiac conduction system

In our approach the study of human specimens with congenital heart disease, taken from our extensive fixed collection that ranges from embryo to adult, is complemented with clinical studies and experimental animal models. Both murine (mouse, rat) and avian (chicken, quail) models are used. Cell-lineage tracing forms an important aspect of research, as does further exploration of the role of the epicardium (which we have identified as being essential for myocardial maturation, coronary vascular development, conduction system differentiation and a possible role as source of adult stem cells in the treatment of myocardial infarction). Recent studies have emphasized the important distinction in the contribution of the first and second heart field to cardiovascular development. Although these fields can be considered a continuum, the second heart field is of great relevance in the development of the epicardium and many common cardiac outflow tract (e.g. DORV, tetralogy of Fallot and aortic arch anomalies) and inflow tract (e.g. AVSD, pulmonary venous abnormalities, cardiac conduction system) abnormalities.

A novel approach has been studying the role of hemodynamics during cardiovascular development. More recent aspects concern the sensory role of the endothelial cilium which is investigated both in vivo and in vitro, to unravel the signaling pathways in ciliary function and dysfunction.