Hearts damaged by cardiac arrest could be repaired with stem cells

Israeli scientists have turned skin cells from heart failure patients into new, healthy heart muscle cells.

The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, took skin cells from patients and re-programmed them to become stem cells capable of becoming heart muscle. They were then shown to integrate with existing heart tissue in rats.

This opens up the possibility of literally mending broken hearts. Since the reprogrammed cells would be obtained directly from the patients themselves, it could also avoid the problem of their immune systems rejecting the cells as “foreign.”

Professor Lior Gepstein, who led the research, said: “What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young – the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born.”

However, the team warns that there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it would be possible to use stem cells in humans in this way, and it could take 5-10 years before clinical trials begin.

This is nevertheless an important breakthrough, and the procedure may eventually help countless people who survive heart attacks but are severely debilitated by damage to the organ.

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