Heart Disease

Can We Regenerate Damaged Heart Muscle?

Posted on 15 January 2016

Cardiovascular diseases is one of the biggest killers in today’s world, but could stem cell transplantation repair damaged heart muscle?

In 2008 around 17 million people died as a result of cardiovascular disease. Heart attacks are obviously a major factor in deaths, but they can substantially damage heart muscle impairing normal function even if patients survive the initial event.

Source: WHO causes of death 2008 summary tables

Source: WHO causes of death 2008 summary tables

Could stem cells offer a solution?

Researchers at UCLA are working on a way of repairing these affected muscles using embryonic stem cells. They first coaxed the cells to become a cardiac mesoderm cell, which can turn into a wide variety of different cardiac cells. Two biomarkers CD13 and ROR2, indicated which cells were most likely to morph into the kind of cells needed to repair a heart damaged by an infarction. 

Heart muscle cells (red and green), 40 days post-transplantation Credit: UCLA   

Heart muscle cells (red and green), 40 days post-transplantation Credit: UCLA  

In an animal model, when these cells were then implanted they not only survived in large enough numbers, they also began producing the sorely needed types of heart cells. Using specific markets the team was able to track these cells throughout a 40 day period. 

“In a major heart attack, a person loses an estimated 1 billion heart cells, which results in permanent scar tissue in the heart muscle. Our findings seek to unlock some of the mysteries of heart regeneration in order to move the possibility of cardiovascular cell therapies forward. We have now found a way to identify the right type of stem cells that create heart cells that successfully engraft when transplanted and generate muscle tissue in the heart, which means we’re one step closer to developing cell-based therapies for people living with heart disease”

A Phase 2 clinical trial using stem cells to treat heart attack victims is already being conducted by California’s Stem Cell Agency. Let’s hope the news is positive!

Read more at CIRM 

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