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Stem Cells May Help After Heart Attack

Scientists Coax Embryonic Stem Cells to Help Rats' Hearts Heal After Heart Attack
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 27, 2007 -- Scientists may be one step closer to healing heart attack damage with embryonic stem cells.

Embryonic stem cells can transform into many different types of cells.

In a new study, researchers including the University of Washington's Charles Murry, MD, PhD, tested human embryonic stem cells as a way to repair rats' hearts after heart attacks.

First, the scientists coaxed human embryonic stem cells in a test tube into becoming heart cells.

Next, they mixed those fledgling heart cells with a "cocktail" of chemicals made to help the heart cells stick to the rats' heart tissue.

Not all of the stem-cell-derived heart cells survived. But some did, and those heart cells helped strengthen the rats' hearts four weeks after transplantation, report Murry and colleagues.

The researchers saw no signs of abnormal tissue or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) related to the stem-cell-derived heart cells.

Murry's team wants to test the stem-cell strategy in larger animals.

"Future studies are required to better understand the mechanisms responsible and to test the ability of these cells to repair hearts under conditions that closely match human disease," write the researchers.

If those experiments succeed, stem-cell tests may begin in people in about two years, states a University of Washington news release.

Apart from the University of Washington researchers, several of the scientists who worked on the study are employees of the biopharmaceutical company Geron Corp.

The study appears in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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