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Reprogrammed skin cells may repair damaged hearts

Wednesday May 23rd, 2012

Researchers have made a breakthrough in the search to repair damaged hearts with stem cells, it was announced today.

The latest research has successfully led to patients being implanted with heart cells derived from their own skin.

This could lead to improved treatment for heart failure, say Professor Lior Gepstein of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel, and colleagues. They explain that recent advances in stem cell biology and tissue engineering mean it could be possible to regenerate a failing heart.

Human embryonic stem cells have been shown to differentiate into functioning heart cells in animal studies. But donated embryonic stem cells are not always available and can be rejected by the recipient, so the team looked into the possibility of using so-called pluripotent stem cells from the patients' own skin.

Two heart failure patients were recruited. The procedure was a success, with their reprogrammed cells developing into effective heart cells.

Findings appear today (May 23) in the European Heart Journal. The authors conclude: "Human-induced pluripotent stem cells can be established from patients with advanced heart failure and coaxed to differentiate into cardiomyocytes, which can integrate with host cardiac tissue.

"This novel source for patient-specific heart cells may bring a unique value to the emerging field of cardiac regenerative medicine."

Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation commented: "This is an important step toward developing new treatment for over 750,000 people in the UK struggling to live their lives with heart failure. However, we still have a way to go before these findings could be applied in the clinic.

"This is a very promising area of study, that's why we are investing heavily in similar research as it could help us literally 'mend broken hearts'."

But Dr Gabor Foldes, of the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, UK, said: "Although this is still early days in cardiac cell therapy, results from this study can be a useful addition to further develop heart regeneration strategies."

Derivation and cardiomyocyte differentiation of induced pluripotent stem cells from heart failure patients. Zwi-Dantsis, L. et al. The European Heart Journal May 23 2012 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehs096

Tags: Asia | Heart Health | UK News

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