Stem cells from mothers' placentas can heal the damage caused by a heart attack, new research shows.
In experiments, they have strengthened the failing organ when it was injected into mice, and scientists believe the same will happen to humans.
And the groundbreaking therapy can be the key to regenerating other parts of the body – such as the kidneys or lungs.
Placenta's stem cells for women could potentially treat more than 23 million people with heart failure worldwide
During a heart attack, parts of the organ are killed and not replaced, so reversing this process is seen as the & # 39; holy grail & # 39; of heart medicine.
People with heart attacks currently get scars that last forever and can lead to heart failure and ultimately to death.
Regenerative techniques using stem cells can offer a radically new approach: growing, lifelike & # 39; heart patches & # 39 ;.
The placenta – a complex membrane found between a mother and her unborn child – is a rich source of stem cells.
They are also known as & # 39; master cells & # 39; because they are able to change into any type of tissue – with the potential to treat a wide range of diseases later in life.
Now a study in rodents in laboratories shows that injections of certain cells from the placenta – also called Cdx2 cells – have repaired their hearts.
In addition, the cells contain all the proteins from embryonic stem cells that are known to generate all the organs of the body, but also extra organs.
This gives them the opportunity to travel directly to the site of the injury, something that embryonic stem cells cannot.
They also seem to avoid the host's immune response because the mice did not reject them when they were administered from the placenta to another animal.
This means that placenta stem cells from women may be able to treat more than 23 million people with heart failure worldwide.
Dr. Hina Chaudhry, director of cardiovascular regenerative medicine on Mount Sinai in New York, said: & # 39; These traits are crucial for the development of a human stem cell treatment strategy, which we started with, as this is a promising one therapy could be in humans.
& # 39; We have also been able to isolate Cdx2 cells from human human placenta & # 39; s; that is why we are now hopeful that we can design a better human stem cell treatment for the heart than we have seen in the past.
& # 39; Human strategies tested in the past were not based on stem cell types that have been shown to form heart cells, and the use of embryonic stem cells for this purpose is related to ethics and feasibility issues.
& # 39; Placentas are routinely discarded all over the world and are therefore almost an unlimited source. & # 39;
At present, the only medical option for patients is a heart transplant, but a lack of donor organs means that most years wait.
There is increasing evidence that stem cell therapy could offer the alternative.
Dr. Chaudhry said: & # 39; Cdx2 cells have been thought in the past to only produce the placenta in early embryonic development.
& # 39; But never before have they been shown to have the ability to regenerate other organs – that's why it's so exciting. & # 39;
Principal investigator Dr. Chaudhry added: & These findings can also pave the way for regenerative therapy of other organs besides the heart.
& # 39; They almost seem like a super-loaded population of stem cells, in the sense that they can focus on the site of an injury and travel directly through the bloodstream to the injury and prevent rejection by the host's immune system. & # 39;
Previous research by the same team showed that mouse stem cells naturally went from the placenta to the mother's heart if it was damaged.
These turned into throbbing muscle cells called cardiomyocytes – the start of the repair process.
The latest study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences goes one step further by identifying the specific Cdx2 cells that have fueled them.
Dr. Chaudhry said they included 40 percent of the placenta cells that traveled to the heart – by far the most.
To test their regenerative traits, her team caused heart attacks in three groups of male mice.
One received Cdx2 stem cell treatments derived from mouse placenta after birth, another placental cells that did not express Cdx2 and the third a saline that acted as a control.
The researchers devised a method to label and track Cdx2 cells.
This showed that they differentiate into beating heart muscle cells, endothelial cells in the lining of the heart or smooth muscle cells.
Immediately after the heart attacks – and three months after the therapy – using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), all animals that received the cells improved significantly.
This included the regeneration of healthy tissue in the heart.
The stem cells were directly migrated to the heart wound and formed new blood vessels and beating heart muscle cells.
The mice injected with saline and the non-Cdx2 placental cells went into heart failure and their hearts had no evidence of regeneration.
In addition, the Cdx2 cells have all the proteins of embryonic stem cells – which are known to generate all the organs of the body – but also extra.
This gives them the opportunity to travel directly to the site of the injury – something that embryonic stem cells cannot.
They also seem to avoid the host's immune response – meaning that they did not reject these cells when they were administered from the placenta to another animal.
First author Dr. Sangeetha Vadakke-Madathil, cardiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine, said: “These results were very surprising to us.
& # 39; It has never been demonstrated that another cell type that has been tested in clinical studies with human heart disease will enter heart cells in Petri dishes.
& # 39; But they did and they knew exactly where to go when we injected them into the blood circulation. & # 39;
Within five years of an attack, half of the patients will no longer live because the organ will eventually become too weak to maintain sufficient blood flow.
Unlike some of our other organs, the heart has a very limited ability to heal itself.
Heart muscle cells replicate at a rate of just 0.5 percent per year – not enough to repair any significant damage.
Instead, the dead cells are replaced by thick layers of hard, rigid scar tissue, meaning that parts of the heart simply no longer function.
The most versatile stem cells come from embryos, but because they harvest these results in the destruction of the embryo, many scientists are investigating other sources.
Placentas offer a potential new source – and can be collected without any risk to babies.
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