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Nenad Bursac


Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Bursac's research interests include: Stem cell, tissue engineering, and gene based therapies for heart and muscle regeneration; Cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmias; Organ-on-chip and tissue engineering technologies for disease modeling and therapeutic screening; Small and large animal models of heart and muscle injury, disease, and regeneration.

The focus of my research is on application of pluripotent stem cells, tissue engineering, and gene therapy technologies for: 1) basic studies of striated muscle biology and disease in vitro and 2) regenerative therapies in small and large animal models in vivo. For in vitro studies, micropatterning of extracellular matrix proteins or protein hydrogels and 3D cell culture are used to engineer rodent and human striated muscle tissues that replicate the structure-function relationships present in healthy and diseased muscles. We use these models to separate and systematically study the roles of structural and genetic factors that contribute cardiac and skeletal muscle function and disease at multiple organizational levels, from single cells to tissues. Combining cardiac and skeletal muscle cells with primary or iPSC-derived non-muscle cells (endothelial cells, smooth muscle cells, immune system cells, neurons) allows us to generate more realistic models of healthy and diseased human tissues and utilize them to mechanistically study molecular and cellular processes of tissue injury, vascularization, innervation, electromechanical integration, fibrosis, and functional repair. Currently, in vitro models of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Pompe disease, dyspherlinopathies, and various cardiomyopathies are studied in the lab. For in vivo studies, we employ rodent models of volumetric skeletal muscle loss, cardiotoxin and BaCl2 injury as well as myocardial infarction and transverse aortic constriction to study how cell, tissue engineering, and gene (viral) therapies can lead to safe and efficient tissue repair and regeneration. In large animal (porcine) models of myocardial injury and arrhythmias, we are exploring how human iPSC derived heart tissue patches and application of engineered ion channels can improve cardiac function and prevent heart failure or sudden cardiac death.


Appointments and Affiliations

  • Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Associate Professor in Medicine
  • Professor in Cell Biology
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
  • Co-Director of the Regeneration Next Initiative

Contact Information


  • Ph.D. Boston University, 2000
  • B.S.E. University of Belgrade (Serbia), 1994

Research Interests

Embryonic and adult stem cell therapies for heart and muscle disease; cardiac and skeletal muscle tissue engineering; cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmias; genetic modifications of stem and somatic cells; micropatterning of proteins and hydrogels.

Courses Taught

  • BME 394: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 493: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 494: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 507: Cardiovascular System Engineering, Disease and Therapy (GE, BB, EL)
  • BME 578: Quantitative Cell and Tissue Engineering (GE, BB, MC)
  • BME 791: Graduate Independent Study
  • BME 792: Continuation of Graduate Independent Study
  • EGR 393: Research Projects in Engineering

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Helfer, A; Bursac, N, Frame-Hydrogel Methodology for Engineering Highly Functional Cardiac Tissue Constructs., Methods in Molecular Biology (Clifton, N.J.), vol 2158 (2021), pp. 171-186 [10.1007/978-1-0716-0668-1_13] [abs].
  • Pomeroy, JE; Helfer, A; Bursac, N, Biomaterializing the promise of cardiac tissue engineering., Biotechnology Advances, vol 42 (2020) [10.1016/j.biotechadv.2019.02.009] [abs].
  • Khodabukus, A; Kaza, A; Wang, J; Prabhu, N; Goldstein, R; Vaidya, VS; Bursac, N, Tissue-Engineered Human Myobundle System as a Platform for Evaluation of Skeletal Muscle Injury Biomarkers., Toxicological Sciences, vol 176 no. 1 (2020), pp. 124-136 [10.1093/toxsci/kfaa049] [abs].
  • Broer, T; Khodabukus, A; Bursac, N, Can we mimic skeletal muscles for novel drug discovery?, Expert Opinion on Drug Discovery, vol 15 no. 6 (2020), pp. 643-645 [10.1080/17460441.2020.1736031] [abs].
  • Li, Y; Song, D; Mao, L; Abraham, DM; Bursac, N, Lack of Thy1 defines a pathogenic fraction of cardiac fibroblasts in heart failure., Biomaterials, vol 236 (2020) [10.1016/j.biomaterials.2020.119824] [abs].