Aswathi Gopalakrishnan

School of Chemical Engineering (UQ)
A Chicken and Egg Challenge: Roles of Cardiac Fibroblasts and Cardiomyocytes in Age-Related Heart Failure

Aswathi Gopalakrishnan


My research at the University of Queensland focuses on understanding the contributions of various heart cell types towards the progression of age-related heart failure, a debilitating disease condition. As a Bioengineer, I have created human stem cell derived heart model in a dish, to mimic ageing. I have worked on identifying how cells within the heart- fibroblasts and myocytes, initiate fibrosis (scarring) and thus loss of heart’s function with age- the chicken or egg challenge! Identifying these drivers would help in developing specialized therapeutics for treatment of age-related heart failure, which currently does not have any specific medication.


This novel research investigates the contribution of cardiac ageing towards Heart Failure (HF), which accounts for 13% of Queensland’s adult population aged 65 and above. Although HF is being extensively studied for therapeutic interventions, there are no effective treatments for age related HF and the intrinsic role of cardiac ageing is less explored, making it an ill-defined major health issue. Whilst there are many possible causative factors underlying age related HF, fibrosis is a dominant impactor on the observed functional loss in the elderly population. Using human stem cell derived cardiac tissue model, this project focusses on understanding the drivers behind the onset and persistence of fibrosis in the cardiovascular system and the potential for a therapeutic strategy. This work could prove beneficial for development of targeted treatment regimen and thus provide significant benefits for Australian health sector, given our vulnerable ageing population.

Role Model

As a young student of class 8, I was intrigued by the genetic engineering subject my teacher taught at school. She showed us how technology could be applied to engineer the nature around us. Ever since, I have yearned to learn the application of technology and engineering in science to make lives better. Little did I know I had developed my interest in STEM career pathway. Hailing from a small township in South India, pursuing my career ambitions in STEM was not a cakewalk.  A bachelor’s in biotechnology opened my options to the world. Till date my undying passion to understand science and technology and its application in our daily life has helped me achieve my masters and a pursue a doctoral research at the University of Queensland.
I am a STEM educator and I have been tutoring several undergraduate as well as master students at the University of Queensland over the past 4 years. I am very passionate about mentoring students in the field of STEM, to encourage them to think logically and critically, work independently and to bring their learnings from class and apply them to solve real world problems. During my lessons I communicate my research with students and I have observed that many of them have been excited to pursue a career in STEM research. And most of these students have been women and I constantly encourage them to take up internships or small projects within the university and develop their skills so that be independent professionals in the future. Many of them have now taken up a career in STEM and as a tutor I feel fortunate to be a part of their STEM experience. Looking back, it all began with that one teacher back in my school, who, through simple demonstrations and examples opened the doors to the possibilities of STEM. So personally, I believe all that it takes to ignite that spark of interest in STEM career, is a visible relatable representation of women in STEM who can highlight the possibilities of STEM while enabling students to develop critical skills that will be beneficial for them to succeed in STEM career pathways.


I am one of Queensland governments’ Wonder of Science (WoS) Young science ambassadors. We work on building passion and enthusiasm along with understanding of STEM disciplines among young school students. I have been part of WoS regional and state conferences where I was involved in ‘Speed Meet with Scientist’, where I communicated my research with students ( Grade 5-9), from schools across Queensland. I observed that students were really excited to know that you could make human tissues outside the body and also had many curious questions about my motivation to be a scientist, the problems I have faced as a scientist as well as how my day to day life in my lab looks like. Along with WoS, I have been part of the G-STEM program to mentor girl students at Foxwell State Secondary College. I have worked closely with a Grade 8 student to help them develop a science project for their school conference. I have also conducted laboratory tours for these G-STEM students to inspire them and show them the possibilities of STEM education and career. In addition, I am a tutor at the University of Queensland for the past 4 years as well as an Associate Fellow in Higher Education and I continue to improve myself as a teaching and learning enthusiast to deliver better to the needs of the students. 

You might be interested in