Adult stem cells improve heart attack prospects
One of the most controversial issues in research today revolves around the potential medical use of stem cells derived from embryos. Britain has become the first country to approve research into this technique. To back up the ethical arguments against the use of embryonic tissue, there is also a scientific basis for believing that stem cells from adults will be just as effective as those from embryos. The case 'For and Against' human embryonic stem cells is presented in two Commentaries in the April issue of Nature Medicine (Vol. 7, No. 4, 01 Apr 2001) written by prominent researchers working in the United Kingdom.
In addition, a paper in the same issue reports that stem cells taken from adult bone marrow could form the basis of a cure for heart failure.
Although many people survive a heart attack, it is after the attack when damage to the heart muscle becomes life threatening. The affected area of the heart undergoes a process of 'remodeling' in which the heart cells grow abnormally large, the area is infiltrated by new blood vessels attempting to compensate for the enlarging cell mass and tissue is replaced by fibrous scar tissue.
Replacing this diseased tissue with new cells would solve the problem. Silviu Itescu and colleagues at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center selected cells from adult bone marrow with the characteristics of embryonic angioblasts- cells that give rise to the endothelial lining of blood vessels. They injected these cells into the tails of rats that had experienced a heart attack and found that the cells caused new blood vessels to grow within the damaged part of the heart. Because the blood supply was improved to this area, fewer of the heart cells died compared with non-treated rats. The treatment also caused a reduction in collagen deposits and scar formation and lead to an overall improvement in cardiac function.
If the technique extends to humans, it has the potential to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality associated with heart attack. Nadia Rosenthal and Lana Tsao of Massachusetts General Hospital discuss the work in an accompanying News & Views article.
Dr. Silviu Itescu
Director, Transplantation Immunology
Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center
630 West 168th Street, PH 14W, Room 1485
New York, New York, 10032
Tel: + 1 212-305-7176
Fax: + 1 212-305-8304
Dr. Nadia Rosenthal
Massachusetts General Hospital E
149 13th St, 4th floor
Mail Code: 1494201
Charlestown, MA 02129-2060
Tel: +1 617 724.9560
Fax : +1 617 726-5806
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