Stem Cell Research on Heart
Regenerative medicine and stem cell research have tremendous potential to revolutionize the treatment of cardiac disease. Stem cells are nature’s own transformers. When the body is injured stem cells travel to the injured site and heal the tissue. Current drug therapies slow the progression of heart failure but are not curative and heart transplants can only be offered to a very limited number of patients. The heart has a limited ability to regenerate damaged tissue after a heart attack. Cardiac stem cells have the potential to differentiate into all the cells that make up the heart, including heart muscle cells, smooth muscle cells, and endothelial cells. Both embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, mature cells that are manipulated back to a stem cell state that can be harnessed to create new heart cells. The difficulty is that the heart cells made with stem cells resemble the heart cells of an infant, rather than adult heart cells. To function in adult hearts, the new heart cells must “mature” and then be able to survive within the constantly beating environment of the heart. At the HSCI, our researchers are focused on understanding how to take these new heart cells all the way to maturity and stability, so they can be used as an effective therapy.