Beating Skin Cells

A very interesting piece of research which could transform the way we currently treat Heart Failure

Scientists have for the first  time succeeded in taking skin cells from patients with heart  failure and transforming them into healthy, beating heart tissue  that could one day be used to treat the condition. The researchers, based in Haifa, Israel, said there were  still many years of testing and refining ahead. But the results  meant they might eventually be able to reprogram patients’ cells  to repair their own damaged hearts. “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,” said Lior Gepstein from the Technion-Israel  Institute of Technology, who led the work.
The researchers, whose study was published in the European  Heart Journal on Wednesday, said clinical trials of the  technique could begin within 10 years. Heart failure is a debilitating condition in which the heart  is unable to pump enough blood around the body. It has become  more prevalent in recent decades as advances medical science  mean many more people survive heart attacks.
Researchers have been studying stem cells from various  sources for more than a decade, hoping to capitalise on their  ability to transform into a wide variety of other kinds of cell  to treat a range of health conditions. There are two main forms of stem cells – embryonic stem  cells, which are harvested from embryos, and reprogrammed “human  induced pluripotent stem cells” (hiPSCs), often originally from  skin or blood.

Gepstein’s  team took skin cells from two men with heart  failure – aged 51 and 61 – and transformed them by adding three  genes and then a small molecule called valproic acid to the cell  nucleus. They found that the resulting hiPSCs were able to  differentiate to become heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes,  just as effectively as hiPSCs that had been developed from  healthy, young volunteers who acted as controls for the study. The team was then able to make the cardiomyocytes develop  into heart muscle tissue, which they grew in a laboratory dish  together with existing cardiac tissue. Within 24 to 48 hours the two types of tissue were beating  together, they said. In a final step of the study, the new tissue was  transplanted into healthy rat hearts and the researchers found  it began to establish connections with cells in the host tissue. “We hope that hiPSCs derived cardiomyocytes will not be  rejected following transplantation into the same patients from  which they were derived,” Gepstein said. “Whether this will be  the case or not is the focus of active investigation.” Experts in stem cell and cardiac medicine who were not  involved in Gepstein’s work praised it but also said there was a  lot to do before it had a chance of becoming an effective  treatment. “This is an interesting paper, but very early and it’s  really important for patients that the promise of such a  technique is not over-sold,” said John Martin a professor of  cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “The chances of translation are slim and if it does work it  would take around 15 years to come to clinic.” Nicholas Mills, a consultant cardiologist at Edinburgh  University said the technology needs to be refined before it  could be used for patients with heart failure, but added: “These  findings are encouraging and take us a step closer to …  identifying an effective means of repairing the heart.”

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 at 7:45 pm and is filed under Heart Failure Treatment, What is Heart Failure.
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