Stem cell research has been viewed as the potential source of future treatments of many ailments from cancer to cardiovascular disease. In this post, I review two of the latest studies on stem cell research which show great promise in treating heart diseases.
About 1 out of every 100 babies is born with congenital cardiac defects. In the US, an estimated 2 million people of different ages have these defects. One of the most common congenital heart defects is dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes greatly enlarged and loses its ability to pump blood efficiently. This inefficiency can lead to heart failure.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by genetic defects. This new development in stem cell research gives hope to those affected by this a serious condition that claims thousands lives in the US each year.
Researchers at the well-known Mayo Clinic have demonstrated that dilated cardiomyopathy can be treated using stem cells. Using embryonic stem cells, the researchers regenerated human heart tissues that can repair the defects.
First, mice were genetically altered to develop dilated cardiomyopathy. The researchers then transplanted 200,000 embryonic stem cells into the wall of the left ventricle of the mice’s hearts and were followed up for 1 month. The implanted stem cells had successfully grafted to the heart tissue to form new cells and tissue. The performance of the heart improved and the organ stopped deteriorating.
This is not the first application of stem cell research in cardiovascular medicine. An earlier study also has demonstrated that embryonic stem cells can be used to regenerate heart tissue that can repair tissue damage after heart attacks.
In this study jointly conducted by Dutch and Singaporean researchers, stem cell secretions were used to repair damage caused by heart attacks. In laboratory studies using pigs, “secretion from stem cells minimized heart injury by enhancing reperfusion therapy (angioplasty and cardiac bypass surgery) and reducing tissue death by another 60%.”
This is the first non-cell based therapy developed through stem cell research and it minimizes the problems commonly associated with cell-based therapies, namely: “tumor formation, immune compatibility, cell viability, delivery, costs and timeliness.”
Pigs are the laboratory animals which most closely resemble the human heart regarding size, structure and function. Pig’s heart valves are even sometimes used for valve replacement in humans.
Although these two research studies have been conducted using laboratory animals, they are major steps towards the application of stem cell technology in treating humans in the clinical setting.
Photo credit: laboratory by porah