Potential heart treatments could be tested on human cells in a lab dish, rather than in mice, thanks to new stem cell technology. Stanford University researchers used skin cells from children with Timothy syndrome, a rare heart ailment, to generate stem cells, which they then used to make beating heart cells.
Those beating cells showed rhythm irregularities similar to those found in long QT syndrome, a feature of Timothy syndrome. The scientists tested a variety of cardiac rhythm drugs on the cells, but the only treatment that showed promise was the experimental cancer drug roscovitine. And that drug would need modifications for use as a heart treatment.
The real standout of the study was the cell creation itself, lead author Ricardo Dolmetsch said. Ordinary cells reprogrammed to behave like stem cells--induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells--could be used to develop lab-dish models for a variety of ailments, which could then be used to test potential treatments. Noting that some drugs are known to cause QT syndrome, Dolmetsch said his group's beating heart cells could be useful for screening drugs for side effects.