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Hope for heart attack patients as scientists use stem cells to repair damaged organs in pigs

Hope for heart attack patients as scientists use stem cells to repair damaged organs in pigs

  • Scientists from the pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca participate in the development of a new treatment
  • It involves human ventricular progenitor cells, which develop into specialized cells.
  • The scientists hope to begin clinical studies in humans within the next two years.

Heart attack survivors could have a better life expectancy as scientists have developed a new treatment that can repair damaged heart tissue.

Human hearts are very poor at repairing themselves: after a heart attack, scar tissue is left behind that is less elastic.

But now scientists from Germany, Sweden and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have created a new stem cell therapy that could do this more efficiently.

They were able to regenerate heart cells in pigs using human ventricular progenitor (HVP) cells.

These cells play a crucial role in the formation of the organ during development and can become specialized cardiac cells when needed.

As reported in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the scientists hope to begin clinical studies in humans within the next two years.

Human hearts are very poor at repairing themselves: after a heart attack, scar tissue is left behind that is less elastic.  But now scientists have developed a new treatment using stem cells (stock)

Human hearts are very poor at repairing themselves: after a heart attack, scar tissue is left behind that is less elastic. But now scientists have developed a new treatment using stem cells (stock)

WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?

Stem cells are a basic type of cell that can develop into a more specialized cell type, such as bone, muscle or cartilage, through a process known as differentiation.

Think of stem cells as a ball of fresh clay that can be shaped and transformed into any cell in the body.

Babies have more stem cells because they grow in embryos as embryonic stem cells, which are used to help the rapidly growing baby form the millions of different cell types it needs to grow before birth.

In adults they act as repair cells, used to replace those that we lose due to damage or aging.

The use of cells is increasingly used in medicine because they have a unique ability to naturally repair a wide range of injuries within the body.

Until now they have been used to regenerate torn Achilles tendons and could repair heart muscle that is damaged when the organ fails.

Previous studies using heart cells grown from stem cells resulted in patients suffering from side effects such as irregular heartbeat and fatal arrhythmia.

The new approach uses the more flexible HVP cell.

The scientists studied the complex molecular processes involved in repairing damaged areas of heart muscle.

The study was carried out by researchers from the Technical University of Munich, Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and the covid vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Professor Karl Laugwitz of TUM said: “In laboratory investigations, we were able to show how HVPs can, in a sense, track down damaged regions in the heart, migrate to injured sites and mature into functioning heart cells,” and prevent scar formation.

The team used pigs to study the effectiveness of treating a damaged heart due to their physiological similarity to humans.

The researchers said their results show that heart damage can be reliably repaired even in large animals without serious side effects.

Dr. Regina Fritsche-Danielson, Head of Research and Early Development at AstraZeneca, said: “The treatment successfully demonstrated the formation of new heart tissue and, more importantly, improved heart function and reduced scar tissue.”

Professor Kenneth Chien, from the Karolinska Institutet, added: “This represents the culmination of two decades of our work trying to find the ideal cell to rebuild the heart.”

The next step will be to translate the findings of his current research to develop a treatment for human heart patients in the next few years.

Many heart diseases cause the death of heart muscle cells and blood vessels.

They are replaced by fibrotic scar tissue, causing further deterioration of heart function.

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