Transplanting Cells Into Damaged Hearts Starts 'Self-Repair'
Another approach by Canadian researchers uses cells from the bone marrow that can develop into many types of cells. Lead researcher Ray C. J. Chiu, MD, PhD, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at McGill University in Montreal, tells WebMD that this method avoids the use of embryonic stem cells, a research area that has come under attack by pro-life groups.
In this study, these cells were injected into the hearts of adult rats. Four weeks after the transplant, the marrow cells were producing heart muscle protein, suggesting that they had changed into heart muscle cells.
Although the research is exciting, doctors agree that they must exercise caution. "It is one thing to do these things in a mouse, or a rat, or sheep, but with humans, we have very different safety concerns," Menasché says. "The reason our approach worked is simplicity: We take the cells from the thigh, grow the cell line in culture, and then transplant. Very simple, very little risk."
Isner, noting that the past year was marked by a number of gene therapy programs being shut down by federal regulators, concurs. "If the past year has taught us one thing, it is this lesson: Keep it simple; take it one step at a time."