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.
The Gladstone Institutes. (Credit: Source.)
“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
injected cells transformed into functional heart cells. The cells created new blood vessels and generated muscular tissue, allowing the mouse to have healthier heart function for at least three months after its heart attack.
“Cardiac progenitor cells could be ideal for heart regeneration,” said Dr. Sheng Ding, one of the study’s authors. “They are the closest precursor to functional heart cells, and, in a single step, they can rapidly and efficiently become heart cells, both in a dish and in a live heart. With our new technology, we can quickly create billions of these cells in a dish and then transplant them into damaged hearts to treat heart failure.”
Dr. Sheng Ding. (Credit: Source.)
In practical terms, this breakthrough means people who have heart attacks might not need full heart transplants or dangerous surgeries; they could have a cell formula injected into their heart to regenerate the heart tissue to replace the more than one billion cells lost during a heart attack. And the recipients of such treatments might also be their own donors. In the study, researchers created the CPCs from skin stem cells.
“I predict that in the next couple of years we will be able to make human CPCs in a very similar manner,” Dr. Ding said. “Human trials will follow after that.”