The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Many people that are living with damaged hearts find themselves easily fatigued and unable to perform simple everyday actions. This has warranted ongoing research into finding a cure for the condition. Recently, a study published in Nature has shown that stem cell technology may be used to reverse heart damage. Most patients that currently suffer from heart disease treat the condition with medication, but the stem cell therapy will enable a regrowth of healthy cells.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Shinshu University. The method they proposed would involve transplanting stem cells into the heart, encouraging it to repair itself. Stem cell transplants have already been used to treat leukemia, lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s successfully. The process recommended by Shinshu has already been tried on primates, with good results. Some of the hearts with the transplanted cells began to beat irregularly, but there were no adverse effects of this and scientists are confident that the procedure will work well for humans.
One of the possible problems with transplanting stem cells is the risk of them being rejected by the body, as the immune system tries to protect it. This can be prevented by ensuring that the protein from the donor cells matches the recipient’s. Our immune system uses these proteins to identify harmful foreign bodies. In addition, taking mild immunosuppressants will ensure the stem cells survival for at least 12 weeks. This gives the body an adequate amount of time to accept the stem cells, and the damaged cells in the heart to begin repairing themselves.
After many years of research, Mayo Clinic has also developed a procedure that has allowed the successful transplant of stem cells into patients with heart disease. Their process involves harvesting these cells directly from the patient’s bone marrow, and then changing them into cardiac cells in a laboratory. These are then injected into the patient’s heart, where they will stimulate the growth of healthy tissue.
To refine this process, the heart was first examined at a subcellular level. During this assessment, the team discovered that there were hundreds of proteins present in cardiac tissue. They then used computer technology to separate the proteins, and found that eight of these were necessary for healthy cells in the heart. This led Mayo Clinic’s team to correctly create stem cells which would not be rejected by the immune system, creating the possibility of a more energetic way of life for those living with heart disease.