Stem Cells Have Potential to Repair Hearts

Heart failure patient skine cells transformed into heart muscle cells in lab

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

(RxWiki News) Scientists have successfully taken skin cells from heart failure patients and converted them into heart muscle cells in a lab, a significant finding since cardiac cells cannot be regenerated.

Though at least five years away from clinical trials in patients, researchers indicated the findings open the idea of using stem cells from heart failure patients to repair heart damage.

"Follow up regularly with your cardiologist if you suffer from heart failure."

Lior Gepstein, professor of medicine and physiology at the Sohnis Research Laboratory for Cardiac Electrophysiology and Regenerative Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Medical Center in Israel, said that for the first time investigators were able to determine it is possible to take human-induced pluripotent stem cells (cells capable of being transformed into other types of cells) from heart failure patients and transform them into heart muscle cells that can integrate with host cardiac tissue.

However, researchers are still investigating whether the cells could be rejected following the transplant. Currently, Gepstein said, the human cells can only be transplanted to animal models after treatment with immunosuppressive drugs so the cells aren't rejected.

Cells likely would not be rejected in humans, however, since the cells would come from the same patient and would not be recognized as foreign by the body, though that has not yet been confirmed.

During the study, researchers took skin cells from two male heart failure patients, aged 51 and 61. The cells were then reprogrammed into beating heart muscle cells in a dish in a laboratory.

Researchers said the cells were equivalent to the stage of heart cells when the men were first born.

The cells were then cultured together with pre-existing cardiac tissue, which began beating together within 48 hours. That tissue was then transplanted into healthy rats, where the grafted tissue began to establish connections with the host tissue.

Though researchers previously transformed cells in young, healthy patients, this trial marks the first to convert the cells in older or diseased patients, the groups most likely to benefit.

One of the major obstacles staving off human trials is the possibility that the cells could develop out of control and become cancerous tumors after they have been transplanted.

Gepstein said that before clinical trials can begin researchers need to develop transplant strategies to increase cell graft survival, maturation, integration and regenerative potential.

In addition, safe procedures must be developed to eliminate risks for causing cancer or affecting the heart's normal rhythm.

The study was recently published in the European Heart Journal.

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Review Date: 
May 24, 2012
Last Updated:
August 10, 2012