If heart disease patients can make use of their own cells to repair their hearts, then people do not need to wait for donated hearts, which is always in short supply. Meanwhile, they also do not need to rely on dangerous medications to stop their body from rejecting the foreign organs.
This is the goal, which scientists have been striving to achieve. It seems that this dream is going to be realized in the very near future.
On July 20, 2009, a study that was published in the peer review journal Circulation revealed that researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota have managed to reverse some of the damages caused by heart attack using stem cells that were induced from connective tissue cells. The proof-of-concept study on mice is the first attempt to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat heart disease.
Using the technique of nuclear reprogramming, the researchers believe they could reverse the fate of adult cells and customize on demand cardiovascular regenerative medicine. In fact, the research team genetically reprogrammed fibroblast cells, which contribute to the formation of connective tissues and scars, so that they became stem cells capable of developing into new heart muscle.
They transplanted these cells into mouse with damaged hearts and found that the cells had managed to stop progression of structural damage within 4 weeks. They also found that heart muscle performance that was lost after the heart attack was restored and tissue at the site of the damage was regenerated.
Stem cells do offer great potential for regenerative medicine as they can be coaxed into becoming lab-dish replacements for heart, liver, skin, eye, brain, nerve and other cells destroyed by disease, accident, war or normal wear-and-tear. In the meantime, they also have potential to cure diseases such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and Type-1 diabetes though research was limited because they were obtained from embryos.
In 2007, scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells into stem cells using embryos and exponentially increased the number of stem cells available for research purposes.
However, the iPS cells have not yet been approved for testing on humans and it will definitely take quite some time before it could be used in treatments.