Scientists Use Skin Cells to Help Repair Heart

NEW YORK | Thursday, May 24th, 2012 1:12pm EDT

Scientists have finally succeeded in taking skin cells from patients with heart failure and transforming them into healthy tissue that could be possibly used to treat the condition.

Scientists Use Skin Cells to Help Repair Heart 01

Scientists revealed they had managed to turn patients' own skin cells into healthy heart muscle in the lab. Photo: MommaMK/Flickr

The Israeli researchers said that despite the news, there were still many years of testing and refining ahead. However, the results showed that 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.

According to Reuters, the researches, whose study has been recently published in the European Heart Journal, said clinical trials of the technique could begin within 10 years.

Heart failure leads to the disability of the heart to pump enough blood around the body. In last decades it has become more prevalent as advances medical science mean many more people survive heart attacks.

At the moment, people with severe heart failure have nothing to do but rely on mechanical devices or hope for a transplant.

For more than ten years researched have been studying stem cells from various sources, hoping to capitalize on their ability to transform into a wide variety of other kinds of cell to treat a range of health conditions.

As the scientists explain, 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.

The group of researchers from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, took skin cells from two men with heart failure and mixed the cells up with a cocktail of genes and chemicals in the lab to create the stem cell treatment, reports BBC.

In the long run, the created cells appeared to be identical to healthy heart muscle cells. The scientists transplanted these beating cells into a rat, and following that the units started to make connections with the surrounding heart tissue.

Professor Gepstein, said: “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 just born.”

Independent experts in stem cell and cardiac medicine praised Gepstein’s work 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,” he added.

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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