Be still your beating hearts: Making medical history, scientists from Israel have been able to transform human stem cells from older diseased patients into brand-new, healthy, beating heart tissue.
This could mean that heart disease might someday be repaired by using cells from a person’s own body, eliminating the need for risky surgical implants and transplants.
Using stem-cell technology, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers from Haifa showed that their lab-produced cardiac muscle cells are also capable of merging into existing heart muscles.
The news is causing a media sensation around the globe.
It will take five to 10 years before this basic science can get to the point of clinical trials, Gepstein emphasizes. People with advanced heart disease today might never benefit from the research, published in the current issue of the European Heart Journal. The advance is more likely to be applicable to people who are now 30 years old and younger.
Still, the breakthrough is monumental.
“What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young — the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born,” says Prof. Lior Gepstein, head researcher.
Skin cells from patients aged 51 and 61 were transformed into healthy heart muscle cells by adding to the cell nucleus three genes and valpoic acid, a small molecule. Gepstein’s team avoided a transcription factor typically used in creating stem cells because it’s thought to cause cells to develop out of control and become tumors.
The new heart muscle cells, cardiomyocytes, grew in a lab dish with existing heart tissues, and within 24 to 48 hours both kinds of tissue were beating together as one.
“The tissue was behaving like a tiny microscopic cardiac tissue composed of approximately 1,000 cells in each beating area.”
This culture was then implanted into the hearts of healthy rats, where it connected well to the existing cardiac muscle.
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