Scientists Turn Skin Cells Into A Beating Heart

By David Wharton | Updated


Ever wonder when you will get one of the true “the future is now” moments? Well, rest assured, this is one of them. Reuters reported that Israeli research scientists have managed to harvest skin cells from patients suffering from heart failure and transform the cells into healthy heart tissue.

The long view of this finding is that this research could someday allow doctors to “reprogram patients’ cells to repair their own damaged hearts.”

Got a bum ticker? Sit right down and let your body clean up the mess itself.

Being able to use this process to heal heart failure on a widespread level wasn’t done right at the moment. But it’s still a major step forward in treating an all-too-common health problem and could someday provide help for patients who must otherwise rely on machines or the hope of a transplant.

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology project head Lior Gepstein explained the significance of the research:

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.

So, just how did this process work? The scientists harvested skin cells from two male heart failure patients, a 51-year-old and a 61-year-old, and then added three genes and a molecule called valproic acid.

This transformed the cells into embryonic stem cells that could transform into heart muscle cells or cardiomyocytes. The researchers then mixed the new heart tissue with existing tissue, and within 48 hours the two strains were beating together as if they always had in unison.

This process wasn’t without its mysteries and drawbacks though.

Most notably, scientists have yet to determine whether stem-cell-generated heart tissue can successfully be implanted in the original patient without the patient’s body rejecting it.

This latter aspect of the heart transplant and recovery method is an ongoing process. Previous attempts at using these skin cells to help heal hearts had meant using external genes in the process. But this new method was the first to have the cells from the patient’s own body.

Overall, curing heart disease and heading it off at the pass with our own cells would represent one of the biggest breakthroughs in modern medicine. After all, we need this baby beating every second or so. Knowing our skin cells could be the solution is an amazing piece of news.

And though it’s worth noting that this method of skin cell heart replacement doesn’t get to the core of heart disease or its causes, it does make for a path forward in recovery. For now, that’s got to be good enough.

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