Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Researchers grow a new heart using stem cell technology

In a new study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have successfully used human induced pluripotent stem cells to grow a beating mouse heart. Hopefully, this breakthrough will lead to the development of transplant organs for patients with the only requirement being a simple skin sample.

During the study, published in Nature Communications, the researchers first removed a heart from a mouse and stripped it completely of its cells. The decellularized mouse heart was then repopulated with human induced pluripotent stem cells that were derived from heart cells. After 20 days the engineered started to beat again.

The researchers, say that this is the first time someone manages to make a mouse heart beat again after its own cells have been stripped and replaced with human heart stem cells.

Dr Lei Yang, of the University of Pittsburgh, said to the DailyMail that more than half of heart disease patients do not respond to current therapies and there is a scarcity of donor organs for transplant.

"Scientists have been looking to regenerative medicine and tissue engineering approaches to find new solutions for this important problem. The ability to replace a piece of tissue damaged by a heart attack, or perhaps an entire organ, could be very helpful for these patients." said Yang.

Dr Yang's team first removed all the cells from a mouse heart, a long process that takes about 10 hours using a variety of agents. Next, they replaced the remaining heart framework with MCP (multipotential cardiovascular progenitor) cells produced by engineering iPS cells from a small human skin biopsy and treating them with special growth factors to further encourage differentiation.

"This process makes MCPs, which are precursor cells that can further differentiate into three kinds of cells the heart uses, including cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. Nobody has tried using these MCPs for heart regeneration before. It turns out the heart's extracellular matrix, the material that is the substrate of heart scaffold, can send signals to guide the MCPs into becoming the specialised cells needed for proper heart function." said Dr Yang.

As aforementioned, 20 days later the mouse heart began contracting again, at the rate of 40 to 50 beats a minute.

"One of our next goals is to see if it is feasible to make a patch of human heart muscle. We could use patches to replace a region damaged by a heart attack. That might be easier to achieve because it will not require as many cells as a whole human sized organ would." concluded Dr Yang.

Tung-Ying Lu, Bo Lin, Jong Kim, Mara Sullivan, Kimimasa Tobita, Guy Salama & Lei Yang (20133). Repopulation of decellularized mouse heart with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiovascular progenitor cells Nature DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3307

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