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Progress toward Healing Scarred Hearts

  Progress toward Healing Scarred Hearts

Researchers observed clusters of cardiac muscle cells (in red and green) derived from human embryonic stem cells 40 days after transplantation.
Image: Courtesy of UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center

In a discovery that may eventually aid in identifying ways to regenerate damaged heart tissue after a heart attack, researchers at UCLA have uncovered two specific markers that identify a stem cell able to generate heart muscle and the vessels that support heart function.

“In a major heart attack, a person loses an estimated 1-billion heart cells, which results in permanent scar tissue in the heart muscle. Our findings seek to unlock some of the mysteries of heart regeneration in order to move the possibility of cardiovascular-cell therapies forward,” says Reza Ardehali, MD, PhD, associate professor of cardiology. “We have now found a way to identify the right type of stem cells that create heart cells that successfully engraft when transplanted and generate muscle tissue in the heart.”

The method still is years away from being tested in humans, but the findings are a significant step forward in the use of human embryonic stem cells for heart regeneration. The research team used human embryonic stem cells, which are capable of turning into any cell in the body, to create cardiac mesoderm cells, which generate specific cell types found in the heart. The researchers pinpointed two distinct markers on cardiac mesoderm cells that specifically create heart-muscle tissue and supporting vessels. They transplanted these cells into an animal model and found that a significant number of the cells survived, integrated and produced cardiac cells, resulting in the regeneration of heart muscle and vessels.

Another study recently published by Dr. Ardehali and his team outlines a novel approach to image, label and track transplanted cells in the heart employing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a common and noninvasive imaging technique. That study used specialized particles that are easily identified using an MRI. The labeling approach allowed Dr. Ardehali and his team to track cells in an animal model for up to 40 days after transplantation. “Our findings show, for the first time, that specific markers can be used to isolate the right kind of early heart cells for transplantation,” says David Elliott, PhD, leader of the cardiac-development research group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, and a co-author of both studies. “Furthermore, our cell-labeling and tracking approach allows us to determine the viability and location of transplanted cells.”

“CD13 and ROR2 Permit Isolation of Highly Enriched Cardiac Mesoderm from Differentiating Human Embryonic Stem Cells,” Stem Cell Reports, January 12, 2016

“Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Iron Oxide-labeled Human Embryonic Stem Cell-derived Cardiac Progenitors,” Stem Cells Translational Medicine, January 2016


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