From the Brain to the Heart

Brain cells become heart cells

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There are countless cell types, but heart cells remain a hot commodity in regenerative medicine. That's because doctors suspect they can be used to replace lost tissue in injured hearts.

A new finding may mean there will be no shortage of such cells. Scientists have demonstrated a method to directly convert a brain cell into a heart cell. The finding could be significant for the future of cell-based therapy for heart disease.

Chronic heart disease patients should ask their cardiologist about cell therapy.

It has taken researchers 10 years to perfect direct cell reprogramming without an intermediate step. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine investigators were the first to show the direct conversion through an RNA transfer. A cell is defined by molecules called messenger RNAs. Researchers changed both a brain cell and skin cell into heart cells using RNAs, also known as mRNAs.

First the investigative team extracted mRNA from a heart cell. Researcher James Eberwine, PhD, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Professor of Pharmacology at the Perelman School of Medicine, said the team of investigators introduced an excess amount of heart cell mRNAs into brain and skin cells, and allowed the host cell to do the remainder of the work.

RNA populations in the host nucleus then overtake the population, altering the cell's RNA to make them heart cells.

Researchers indicate the heart cells could be useful for cell therapeutics where damaged tissue could be replaced with cardiac cells. This therapy could restore function in those with congestive heart failure or those who have suffered a heart attack by constructing new blood vessels with the the re-purposed cells.

Creating such cells from patients own cells may also allow for personalized screenings to determine drug treatment effectiveness. It's too early to tell how soon such technology may be possible.

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Review Date: 
July 13, 2011
Last Updated:
July 19, 2011