Scientists identify stem cells that can repair damaged hearts

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Regenerative medicines are becoming popular since the advent of stem cell therapies and progress therein, but one particular area that researchers have been having difficulty with is the type and combination of stem cells to be used for a particular organ. Heart is no exception to this as stem cells isolated from the heart have shown the potential of encouraging the heart to repair itself, but there has been an uncertainty within the research community itself about the best type and combination of stem cells that will provide the desired output.

Scientists at Imperial College London have identified a particular type of stem cell that could have the most potential yet for heart regenerative medicine. The findings have been published in Nature Communications.

Heart attacks deprive the heart of oxygen and this oxygen deprivation leads to irreparable damage of the heart. Over the course of time, this damage could lead to heart failure. An estimated half a million people in the UK alone are affected by this with hundreds of millions suffering from such a condition globally.

Heart failure – when the heart is damaged, becomes weak and cannot pump properly – is a debilitating condition that leaves sufferers unable to climb stairs, wash themselves or carry out simple tasks. In its severest form, heart failure is a terminal illness and the only cure is a heart transplant.

This is where stem cell based regenerative medicine plays a crucial role as the latest research has proved that a particular type of stem cell has the ability to repair such damaged hearts in a mouse model.

Scientists discovered that stem cells capable of repairing the heart can be identified through a protein on their surface, called PDGFR alpha. Scientists were able to use this protein to find, purify and multiply enough of these stem cells so that they could be injected into damaged hearts. Researcher reveal in their study that mice treated with these stem cells were able to recover and repair a significant proportion of their damaged heart muscle after 12 weeks, preventing heart failure, when compared to mice who had not received the stem cell treatment.

“We have found stem cells in the heart that have a specific protein – called PDGFR alpha – on their surface have the greatest potential to repair damaged hearts”, said Professor Michael Schneider of the British Heart Foundation who led the study.

Professor Schneider added that post the stem cells injection, they observed significant repair to the heart of the test subject. Now that we know which stem cells to use, we want to find their equivalent in human hearts for more efficient heart repair and regeneration after heart attacks.

Schneider and his team wants to extent their research in a bid to find a similar cell in human hearts, using PDGFR alpha and other proteins as identifiers and purify the best stem cells to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.

“Future treatments could be injections of stem cells, as in our current experiments, or use of the healing proteins that these cells make”, Schneider added.