Stem cells used to heal damaged hearts for the first time
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Wednesday 30 April 2014
The damaged hearts of laboratory monkeys have been successfully repaired for the first time with human stem cells in a study that could lead to the first clinical trials on patients with heart disease within the next four years, scientists said.
The study, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates that human stem cells can be grown in large enough quantities to form beating cardiac muscle tissue which can be stored in frozen form until needed for a transplant operation, the researchers said.
Experiments involving the injection of human stem cells into the damaged hearts of mice, rats and guinea pigs have already shown the potential for treating heart disease but the latest study is the first to prove its potential in a non-human primate species, the pintail macaque monkey.
“The main significance of this study is that it shows for the first time that we can do heart regeneration at a scale that the world has never seen before,” said Charles Murry, professor of pathology and bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“We’re able to grow large amounts of human heart muscle cells in a dish. We can grow them in the billions, we can freeze them and keep them in cold storage until we can use them and then we can transplant them into the heart of a large animal that really mimics the human condition well,” Professor Murry said.
Stem cells, sometimes known as the “master cells” of the body, are seen as offering new kinds of treatments for incurable or progressive illnesses, from heart disease to Parkinson’s, but there are still immense practical and safety issues before they can be widely introduced.
For treating human heart disease, for instance, it will be necessary to grow billions of cardiac muscle cells in the laboratory from stem cells and to freeze them without impairing their ability to regenerate damaged cardiac muscle once they have been implanted into a patient, Professor Murry said.
“The principal focus is to understand stem cells to the point where we can grow large amounts of beating human heart muscle in a dish, to learn the science of how they differentiate and then to harness them in such a way that we can cure human heart disease ultimately,” he said.
“Before this study, it was not known if it is possible to produce sufficient numbers of these cells and successfully use them to re-muscularise damaged hearts in a large animal whose heart size and physiology is similar to that of the human heart,” he explained.
The study was carried out on just seven macaque monkeys suffering from a condition that simulated human heart disease. In each case, the animal showed an improvement with the implanted human stem cells leading to an average 40 per cent repair of the damaged tissue.
After three months, the implanted cells appeared to have fully integrated with the monkey’s own cardiac tissue, beating in synchrony and with the primate’s blood vessels growing into and nurturing the replacement cells.
“Once in the heart we’ve shown they survive, that they are able to organise themselves into new heart muscle and they will connect with the surrounding cardiac muscle cells and beat in synchrony,” Professor Murry said.
“The long-term goal is to get the heart to heal by muscle regeneration instead of forming scar tissue after a patient has a heart attack,” he said.
Although the monkeys showed no adverse symptoms relating to the transplant, the scientists did detect an irregular heartbeat within two to three weeks following the transplant, which later disappeared as the transplanted cells became more electrically stable, they said.
Despite this, the results open the way for human clinical trials within the next few years, said Michael Laflamme, professor of pathology at Washington University.
“The results show we can now produce the number of cells needed for human therapy and get formation of new heart muscle on a scale that is relevant to improving the function of the human heart,” Professor Laflamme said.
- 1 Sainsbury's '50p challenge' poster telling staff to encourage customers to spend more placed in shop window instead of staff room
- 2 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 3 HeForShe campaign: Iceland to follow up Emma Watson speech with UN women's rights conference – for men only
- 4 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 5 Teenagers irritable because early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Five facts you never knew about your (almost obsolete) tax disc
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...
£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...
Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...