Researchers Create Heart Muscle Cells from Stem Cells

February 16, 2009
Julia Ernst, MS

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created heart muscle cells from "induced" stem cells.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) have created heart muscle cells from “induced” stem cells.

A little over a year ago, scientists from UW-Madison showed that skin cells could be turned back into stem cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells. From these, the researchers were able to grow cardiomyocytes — working muscle cells of the heart.

The stem cells are created by inserting four transcription factors into the skin cells by way of a virus, which is then taken up by the new cells. Because of this, there is a risk that the new stem cells may cause cancer later on, which means that methods must be perfected before reprogrammed skin cells can be utilized to fight disease.

However, the iPS cells could be used immediately for research, said UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health professor of medicine Tim Kamp, who co-authored the study with several other researchers.

"It's an encouraging result because it shows that those cells will be useful for research and may someday be useful in therapy," Kamp added. "If you have a heart failure patient who is in dire straits—and there are never enough donor hearts for transplantation—we may be able to make heart cells from the patient's skin cells and use them to repair heart muscle. That's pretty exciting."

As many cardiovascular diseases have genetic causes, a next step as a result of this research may be to create cardiomyocytes from patients with those diseases. Clive Svendsen, a UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health professor of neurology and anatomy, has turned the iPS cells into disease-specific neutral cells.

“We're excited about it, because it's the some of the first research to show it can be done, but in the future, we'll probably say, 'Well, of course it can be done,'" Kamp said. "But you don't know until you do it. It's a very mysterious and complicated dance to get these cells to go from skin cells to stem cells to heart cells."

Click here to read the abstract of the article.

specialty: cardiology