04 December 2011

Newly Discovered Cardiac Stem Cells Repair Damaged Heart

Researchers have discovered a new source of stem cells located in the heart. According to the findings, these stem cells have the capacity for long-term expansion and can form a variety of cell types, including muscle, bone, neural and heart cells.

The findings are published in the December issue of Cell Stem Cell, a Cell Press publication.

These cardiac stem cells can be found in both developing and adult hearts. These cells can be found near the blood vessels. This discovery may improve much needed regenerative therapies aimed to enhance tissue repair in the heart. The damaged heart often doesn't repair itself well because of the incredibly hostile environment and wide-scale loss of cells, including stem cells, after a heart attack.

Richard Harvey of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Australia says that despite the stem cell's ability to transform into other cell types, he thinks that they have a bias toward forming into heart tissue. "In an evolutionary sense, they've been dedicated to the heart for a long time.", he says. He also suspects that their flexibility is a byproduct of the need to remain responsive to the environment and to many types of injury.

The stem cells harvested from human hearts during surgery are beginning to show promise for reversing heart attack damage, Harvey noted. "If we are serious about organ regeneration, we need to understand the biology," he says.

Video: Report on how cardiac stem cells repair a damaged heart

Igor Slukvin of the University of Wisconsin agrees with Harvey, "Understanding the developmental biology of the heart is instrumental in developing novel technologies for heart regeneration and cellular therapies," he writes. "It is critical to identify the type and origin of cells capable of reconstituting a heart."

While cell-based therapies do have potential for repairing damaged heart tissue, Harvey ultimately favors the notion of regenerative therapies designed to tap into the natural ability of the heart and other organs to repair themselves. And there is more work to do to understand exactly what role these stem cells play in that repair process. His team is now exploring some of the factors that bring those cardiac stem cells out of their dormant state in response to injury and protect their "stemness."

Video: American Heart Association report on Cardiac Stem Cells

Cardiac stem cells are different from embryonic stem cells in that cardiac cells are also present in adult bodies while embryonic stem cells can only be harvested from embryos


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