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Imagine a world where damaged and diseased hearts no longer exist. Imagine a world where your heart could simply heal itself and the world where heart surgeries, medications, and disability from heart disease are nothing more than an entry in a medical history book about how things used to be.
While a world where hearts heal themselves and heart disease and damage is a thing of the past may sound like something from a good science fiction movie, the reality may not be quite so far-reaching into the future.
Spurred in part by animals known to grow new body parts, researchers have been exploring the possibility that humans could grow new body parts as well, and replace diseased and damaged tissue with healthy, natural tissue supplied by our own internal systems.
In nature, animals such as the salamander are able to regenerate cells by a process called dedifferentiation. Simply put, dedifferentiation is the process where healthy heart cells regress, or revert back, to an embryonic state. As a result, new cells that contain stem cell markers are produced.
These new cells result in the growth of new heart muscle cells. Damaged or diseased heart tissue is regenerated and heart function restored to the same state as before the damage occurred.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim and the Schüchtermann Klinik in Bad Rothenfelde Germany have identified a protein which they believe may aid the heart in healing itself by promoting the dedifferentiation process, enabling the heart to heal itself.
As a part of the study, researchers observed the presence of oncostatin M in higher concentrations than normal in tissue samples of cardiac patients. Oncostatin M regulates the dedifferentiation process in some human cells. As a result of this observation, researchers applied oncostatin M to cultivated heart cells.
Within six days, researchers were able to determine that the cells were dedifferentiated and that stem cell markers were present. Subsequent animal tests were conducted and researchers confirmed that oncostatin M acted to stimulate repair of damaged heart muscles.