How to mend a broken heart

A lot of people might think they have the solution to a broken heart down to a tee; cry your eyes out whilst watching The […]

A lot of people might think they have the solution to a broken heart down to a tee; cry your eyes out whilst watching The Notebook, down a few gallons of ice cream plus spend a few nights drowning any remaining sorrows (and dignity) on the dance floor, sorted. However, researchers believe they might have found a slightly more scientific solution to damaged heart muscle using stem cell technology.

The Israel-based research team, led by Professor Lior Gepstein have achieved a world first by growing brand new healthy heart muscle cells from skin cells. Taking skin samples from elderly heart failure patients, the team managed to genetically reprogramme the cells into human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), a type that has the potential to become almost any type of cell in the human body. From here the researchers were able to induce the cells to differentiate into heart muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, and managed to integrate these into the heart tissue of rats. Though similar research had been conducted before, the skin cells involved had previously come from young, healthy volunteers.

Professor Gepstein commented; “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. In this study we have shown for the first time that it’s possible to establish hiPSCs from heart failure patients – who represent the target patient population for future cell therapy strategies using these cells – and coax them to differentiate into heart muscle cells that can integrate with host cardiac tissue”

The work, published online this week in the European Heart Journal, shows how stem cell technology such as this has huge potential combating heart disease and similar conditions. Though it is early days and will take an estimated 5-10 years before the technology comes to clinical trial, such advances show huge promise for the fight against heart disease.

About Holly Youlden

Holly Youlden is a 2nd year undergraduate reading Biological Sciences at Keble College.