Cardiac regeneration  pg. 5

One of the challenges, then, “is to find ways to make that homing efficient at the time you want to deliver the cells.”

The biggest hurdle of all may be inducing stem cells to become heart cells instead of blood cells. This will require a deeper knowledge of the cellular factors involved in differentiation.

Hatzopoulos and his colleagues have isolated endothelial progenitor cells from the mouse embryos and have identified about 100 proteins produced by these cells that may have “cardiogenic” properties. They are now examining these proteins in animal models to whittle down the number of factors required for the development of cardiomyocytes from stem cells.

Studying these embryonic stem cells gives researchers a “blueprint” for the differentiation of cardiomyocytes, which they can then apply to other types of stem cells to help guide their differentiation down the desired path.

“We are trying to find factors that will push these cells towards the cardiac lineage in a more effective way,” said Hatzopoulos. “The practical application…would be that if we put these factors together with stem cells and transplant them in the heart, that they will increase the yield of stem cells that become heart cells.”

If researchers are able to refine this therapy, making it more efficient and effective, stem cell therapy for heart repair could mark a new chapter in regenerative medicine.

“Many diseases—everything from heart disease to bone diseases—are so complicated, that we can’t use genes or drugs (to fix them). We have to have the cell as the building unit. The challenge is to find the right cell, and to make it do what you want it to do,” Hatzopoulos says.

“Cells are the therapeutic unit of the future,” he predicts. “We have only seen the beginning of it.”

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