Scientists in Haifa Israel have successfully taken skin cells from heart failure patients and transformed them into beating heart muscle cells.
The testing is still in the early stages and it will be years before the technique can be applied directly to humans but it does hold promise, that someday patients may be able to repair their own hearts with their own cells.
The team of researchers led by Professor Lior Gepstein, Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Physiology at the Sohnis Research Laboratory for Cardiac Electrophysiology and Regenerative Medicine, took skin cells from two men aged 51 and 61.
To reprogram the cells to behave like heart cells they added three genes and a molecule of valproic acid and inserted them into the cells’ nucleus.
When cells, usually from skin or blood, are reprogrammed in this way they are called "human induced pluripotent stem cells" (hiPSCs). The benefit of using a patient’s own created stem cells is that there would be reduced risk of rejection.
The researchers were then able to modify the hiPSCs using a virus to turn them into heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes). Then, they grew the cells into tissue and “within 24-48 hours the tissues were beating together. The tissue was behaving like a tiny microscopic cardiac tissue composed of approximately 1000 cells in each beating area," said Prof Gepstein. (1)
Finally, the new tissue was transplanted into healthy rat hearts and the grafted tissue began to establish connections with the cells of the rat hearts.
Currently, patients with heart failure must rely on medications, mechanical devices or wait for a transplant. The congestive heart failure death rate has increased by 35 percent in the past quarter of a center in the United States. It is the cause or main contributor to nearly 53,000 deaths according to the American Heart Association. (3)
"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 told Huffington post.