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New stem cell combination could help to repair damaged hearts

last modified Aug 05, 2019 09:57 AM
A combination of heart cells derived from human stem cells could be the answer to developing a desperately-needed treatment for heart failure, according to new research part-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and published in Nature Biotechnology.
New stem cell combination could help to repair damaged hearts

New stem cell combination could help to repair damaged hearts. Image: Shutterstock

Researchers have found that, by transplanting an area of damaged tissue with a combination of both heart muscle cells and supportive cells taken from the outer layer of the heart wall, they may be able to help the organs recover from the damage caused by a heart attack.

Scientists have been trying to use stem cells to repair damaged hearts for a number of years. Efforts have been unsuccessful so far, mainly because the vast majority of transplanted cells die within a few days.

Now, Dr Sanjay Sinha and his team at the Wellcome – MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, have used supportive epicardial cells developed from human stem cells to help transplanted heart cells live longer.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK living with heart failure – many are in a race against time for a life-saving heart transplant. But with only around 200 heart transplants performed each year in the UK, it’s absolutely essential that we start finding alternative treatments” said Dr Sinha.

The researchers used 3D human heart tissue grown in the lab from human stem cells to test the cell combination, finding that the supportive epicardial cells helped heart muscle cells to grow and mature. They also improved the heart muscle cell’s ability to contract and relax.

In rats with damaged hearts, the combination also allowed the transplanted cells to survive and restore lost heart muscle and blood vessel cells.

Researchers now hope to understand how the supportive epicardial cells help to drive heart regeneration. Understanding these key details will bring them one step closer to testing heart regenerative therapies in clinical trials.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation which part-funded the research said “Despite advances in medical treatments, survival rates for heart failure remain poor and life expectancy is worse than for many cancers. Breakthroughs are desperately needed to ease the devastation caused by this dreadful condition.

“When it comes to mending broken hearts, stem cells haven’t yet really lived up to their early promise. We hope that this latest research represents the turning of the tide in the use of these remarkable cells.”

The BHF has invested millions of pounds in research to harness the power of stem cells in treating heart and circulatory diseases. The charity has funded three Centres of Regenerative Medicine across the UK, housing some of the world’s leading experts.

In addition to the BHF, this research was funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Publication details:

Epicardial cells derived from human embryonic stem cells augment cardiomyocyte-driven heart regeneration.  J Bargehr, LP Ong, M Colzani, H Davaapil, P Hofsteen, S Bhandari, L Gambardella, N Le Novère, D Iyer, F Sampaziotis, F Weinberger, A Bertero, A Leonard, W Bernard, A Martinson, N Figg, M Regnier, M Bennett, CE Murry & S Sinha.  Nature Biotechnology 37, 895906 (2019).