It may be possible someday to use a patient's own cardiac stem cells to minimize or even repair the damage after a heart attack.
University of California-San Francisco scientists believe that this process is possible after generating promising results in mice. Details are published online in the journal PLoS One.
For this study to begin, some poor, middle-aged mice had to have heart attacks. (They did.) At that point, researchers isolated Sca-1+ cardiac stem cells from all four chambers of their heart tissue. In one test, researchers showed that the cells, in a culture dish, could differentiate into cardiomyocytes, endothelial and smooth muscle cells, all of which help form a functioning heart. Next, they copied the cells and placed them into the tissue of mice that had suffered heart attacks and were also genetically similar to the ones from which the cells were harvested. The cells helped stimulate blood vessel growth and began to differentiate into endothelial and smooth muscle cells, thus offering the mice hope.
This approach is a long way from working in people, and stem cell treatments haven't exactly produced a bounty of life-changing results for humans. But researchers think they can harvest cardiac cells from live patients safely and without much fuss, avoiding issues of cell rejection if the stem cells come from someone else. What's more, it could give patients with substantial heart failure or cardiac damage a treatment option they'd otherwise not have. As always, we await results from further research.
Oddly enough, California drug developer Capricor reported progress recently with a similar study, but in people. The company conducted a small clinical trial showing that patients' own cardiac stem cells helped repair damaged heart tissue after a heart attack, according to Bloomberg's coverage of the finding.