If the Grim Reaper takes any particular form in the United States, it may well be that of heart disease. Heart disease causes one in every four deaths– killing more men and women than any other disease.
Part of the problem in recovering from the disease is the heart’s inability to regenerate cells. But researchers at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco may have found a solution to that problem: inject the heart with stem cells that are primed to transform into cardiac cells.
“Scientists have tried for decades to treat heart failure by transplanting adult heart cells, but these cells cannot reproduce themselves and so they do not survive in the damaged heart,” said Dr. Yu Zhang, lead author of the study that was published in Cell Stem Cell.
The difference between the cells that were used in past attempts and those used by the scientists for this experiment is their origin and age. The researchers used cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), stem cells that are naturally primed to become a specific target cell. In the case of CPCs, the cells go on to form cardiomyocytes, endothelial and vascular smooth muscle cells – all of which form the necessary tissues of the heart. Instead of allowing the CPCs to develop into their three different forms, the researchers used a mixture of pharmaceutical compounds to halt the cells’ development at the cardiac precursor state, right before they turned into their specific, final forms. That cellular cocktail was then injected into a mouse that had suffered a heart attack, and 90 percent of the
Lorraine Boissoneault is a writer in Chicago who covers science, history, foreign affairs, and adventure. She's written for Weather.com, Salon, Forbes, JSTOR Daily and many others. Her first book, The Last Voyageurs, was published by Pegasus in April 2016.