Credit: Gladstone Institutes
Scientists restore damaged heart material in mice. Scar-forming cardiac cells are turned into beating heart muscle.
ScienceDaily — Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes just announced a research breakthrough in mice that one day may help doctors restore hearts damaged by heart attacks -- by converting scar-forming cardiac cells into beating heart muscle.
These scientists previously transformed such cells into cardiac muscle-like cells in petri dishes. But Gladstone postdoctoral scholar Li Qian, PhD, along with researchers in the laboratory of Deepak Srivastava, MD, has now accomplished this transformation in living animals -- and with even greater success. The results, which may have broad human-health implications, are described in the latest issue of Nature, available online April 18.
Cardiovascular disease is the world's leading cause of death. Annually in the United States alone, the nearly 1 million Americans who survive a heart attack are left with failing hearts that can no longer beat at full capacity.
"The damage from a heart attack is typically permanent because heart-muscle cells -- deprived of oxygen during the attack -- die and scar tissue forms," said Dr. Srivastava, who directs cardiovascular and stem cell research at Gladstone, an independent and nonprofit biomedical-research institution. "But our experiments in mice are a proof of concept that we can reprogram non-beating cells directly into fully functional, beating heart cells -- offering an innovative and less invasive way to restore heart function after a heart attack."
In laboratory experiments with mice that had experienced a heart attack, Drs. Qian and Srivastava delivered three genes that normally guide embryonic heart development -- together known as GMT -- directly into the damaged region. Within a month, non-beating cells that normally form scar tissue transformed into beating heart-muscle cells. Within three months, the hearts were beating even stronger and pumping more blood.