For some time now adult stem cell therapies have been tremendously effective for heart patients – and they still are. A recent experiment out of the Netherlands (where embryonic stem cell research is permitted) using adult stem cells yielded – without much surprise – promising results.
A Leiden University PhD student injected human “Epicardium Derived Cells” or EPDC’s into the hearts of a mice just after inducing infarction. These mice were observed to have improved heart function, but even better:
Two weeks following cell transplantation, the treated hearts contained more blood vessels, the heart muscle cells exhibited an increased activity of DNA damage repair, and the wall was thicker where the infarct had occurred. These results suggest that EPDC’s have an almost instant stimulating effect on the surrounding heart tissue following transplantation.
In other words, after a heart attack, the transplanted cells helped minimize tissue damage and death, and at the same time put the heart through enough “strength-training” to prevent further failure.
Great news right? Yeah!
So, when UC Davis stem cell researcher and professor Ronald Li says, “Our latest study gives us great hope of eventually achieving a breakthrough where stem cell therapy could be used in the types of cases that today require a heart transplant,” . . . what kind of stem cell therapy might he have in mind? All the great life-saving work the pro-active professionals at TheraVitae are committed to? Nope. How about the Texas Heart Institute’s Stem Cell Center? Uh-uh.
What Li has in mind is the discovery of calcium stores in early heart cells. It’s an important find because, as it turns out, these cells need to be able to handle calcium so that excitation-contraction coupling – a process needed to make the heart pump – can occur. Unfortunately, these early heart cells came from human embryos:
Li and his colleagues took human embryonic stem cells and grew them in cultures, allowing them to differentiate, or develop, into heart cells. Once they had these tiny, pulsing masses, the investigators energized the cells with small amounts of electrical current and chemicals, including caffeine.
What’s next for Li and company? Jan Nolta, director of the UC Davis Stem Cell Program gives us some clues:
“As additional embryonic stem cell lines become available for research, we’ll be able to more fully explore the possibilities inherent in this powerful field of bioscience.”
That’s right. Before they can deliver, they need more stem cell lines – more human embryos. Meanwhile, back at the TheraVitae ranch, lives are being saved and no embryos are destroyed. Stay tuned: tomorrow an interview with Stem Cell Guy about TheraVitae.