Lifestyle & Belief

Israeli scientists create heart muscle cells from skin cells in the lab


Fabien Danjan of CNRS (French Reseach Institut Center) introduces embryonic stem cells in a mouse embryo to set a genetically modified line, on February 9, 2012, at the Centre d'Immunologie de Marseille-Luminy (CIML).


Anne-Christine Poujoulat

Israeli scientists have found a way to transform skin cells into healthy heart tissue cells, an important advance in the fight against heart disease, Reuters reported

A team from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel took skin cells from two men with heart failure and mixed them with a cocktail of genes and chemicals in the lab, BBC News reported. The method is a recently discovered approach to tissue creation called human-induced pluripotent stem cells, or hiPSCs, an alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells, Agence France Presse reported

The scientists then transposed the cells into rats, which grafted themselves to the rat's cardiac tissue, CBS News reported. The scientist's findings were published in the current issue of European Heart Journal

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"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," the study's author Professor Lior Gepstein, professor of cardiology and physiology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, said in a news release

However, Gepstein acknowledged that more research needs to be done in order to determine the number of cells needed to make heart tissue for humans that will graft properly and regenerate into a stronger heart, according to CBS News. Gepstein assumes it will take "five to ten years" before the team starts doing clinical trials on humans. 

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"There is still a lot of work that must be done before these regeneration procedures can be used in patients with heart failure," Dr. Lawrence Phillips, assistant professor of medicine and a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBS News. "However, the successes seen in this study - as well as others recently published - show that we are clearly making progress."

Roughly 5.8 million Americans have heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with 670,000 new cases diagnosed each year. There is currently no treatment that can reverse damage caused by a heart attack, Dr. Phillips told CBS.