A breakthrough in stem cell regeneration has occurred at Pennsylvania State University, where a research team claim to have used human stem cells to regenerate the cells that cover the external surface of a human heart.
The new research is set to help patients who have suffered a heart attack or genetic defects by helping to replace damaged tissues through new growth.
The following is taken from an article on NewAtlas.com written by Collin Jeffrey:
Building upon previous research into what is known as Wnt signaling pathways (a group of protein conduits that allow signals to enter a cell via cell-surface receptors), the researchers found that the action of certain chemicals on these pathways effectively turned the cardiac stem cells into myocardium cells (which make up the middle of the heart's three layers of muscle), which they can then transform into epicardium (outer layer) cells.
"In 2012, we discovered that if we treated human stem cells with chemicals that sequentially activate and inhibit Wnt signaling pathway, they become myocardium muscle cells," said Xiaojun Lance Lian, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and biology, leader of the study at Penn State.
"We needed to provide the cardiac progenitor cells with additional information in order for them to generate into epicardium cells, but prior to this study, we didn't know what that information was.
"Now, we know that if we activate the cells' Wnt signaling pathway again, we can re-drive these cardiac progenitor cells to become epicardium cells, instead of myocardium cells."
It’s all very technical for most, but basically this knowledge will help move closer toward the eventual regeneration of a complete heart wall.
Calls for such research in the United States are huge with someone having a heart attack every 43 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The PennState researchers believe that their research could have a promising effect on recuperation from heart attack.
"Heart attacks occur due to blockage of blood vessels," said Lian. "This blockage stops nutrients and oxygen from reaching the heart muscle, and muscle cells die. These muscle cells cannot regenerate themselves, so there is permanent damage, which can cause additional problems. These epicardium cells could be transplanted to the patient and potentially repair the damaged region."
There are other techniques that are also in the testing phases, such as injecting partial stem cell components to repair damaged hearts in mice, however current PennState research offers an alternative.
Moving forward, the team intends to continue working to advance their research on endocardium cell regeneration, with the ultimate goal of producing all of the various heart layers from the same heart progenitor stem cells.
"We are making progress on that inner layer, which will allow us to regenerate an entire heart wall that can be used in tissue engineering for cardiac therapy," said Lian.