Scientists turn skin cells into beating heart muscle

Posted: May 25, 2012 at 1:15 pm

LONDON (May 23): Scientists have for the first time succeeded in taking skin cells from patients with heart failure and transforming them into healthy, beating heart tissue that could one day be used to treat the condition.

The researchers, based in Haifa, Israel, said there were still many years of testing and refining ahead. But the results meant they might eventually be able to reprogram patients' cells to repair their own damaged hearts.

"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," said Lior Gepstein from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who led the work.

The researchers, whose study was published in the European Heart Journal on Wednesday, said clinical trials of the technique could begin within 10 years.

Heart failure is a debilitating condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body. It has become more prevalent in recent decades as advances medical science mean many more people survive heart attacks.

At the moment, people with severe heart failure have to rely on mechanical devices or hope for a transplant.

Researchers have been studying stem cells from various sources for more than a decade, hoping to capitalise on their ability to transform into a wide variety of other kinds of cell to treat a range of health conditions.

There are two main forms of stem cells - embryonic stem cells, which are harvested from embryos, and reprogrammed "human induced pluripotent stem cells" (hiPSCs), often originally from skin or blood.

TISSUES BEATING TOGETHER

Gepstein's team took skin cells from two men with heart failure - aged 51 and 61 - and transformed them by adding three genes and then a small molecule called valproic acid to the cell nucleus.

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Scientists turn skin cells into beating heart muscle

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