Stem cell patch heals a broken heart

Chalk up another victory for stem cells: a study shows they can mend a broken heart--literally. According to researchers at the University of Cincinnati the recipe calls for infusing a patch with stem cells and mixing it with an overexpression of a specific cell instruction molecule. The cells migrate to the site of damaged cardiac tissue after a heart attack and, according to the research presented Monday at the the American Heart Association's Scientific Meeting in Chicago, result in improved function in animal models.

"Following myocardial infarction, better known as heart attack, tissue becomes damaged and scarred, cardiomyocytes die and heart pump function is reduced," said lead researcher Yi-Gan Wang in a prepared statement. "There are therapies being tested by other researchers where stem cells are injected directly into damaged heart muscle to see if contractile function can be restored."

What Wang and his team did add a tri-cell patch, made up of cardiomyocytes (to restore heart contractility), endothelial cells (to build new blood vessels) and embryonic fibroblasts (to provide support to the cell structure) and apply them to the surface of the damaged area of the heart.

"In our current study, we wanted to determine if the amplified instructions from overexpressed miR-29, a microRNA, in animal models would enhance the effectiveness of the cell patch by reducing barriers in the infarcted area, leading to enhanced regeneration of heart tissues and resulting in the restoration of heart function after myocardial infarction," Wang said.

The patch was placed, in an animal model, on the damaged region three days after a heart attack. A month later, echocardiograms showed that heart function significantly increased. "Hopefully, one day such treatments will restore cardiac function in patients who have experienced a heart attack, leading to a longer and better quality of life," Wang said.

- read the University of Cincinnati release