Researchers show that heart heals itself

10 January 2011

The Stem Cell & Molecular Physiology team, at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, led by Dr Georgina Ellison, has uncovered vital research that could change the view of the best type of cells to be used to heal the heart after a heart attack. The findings, funded by the British Heart Foundation and the EU FP7 programme, have produced evidence that stem cells resident in the adult heart are playing a key role in both heart cell regeneration and survival.

Dr Georgina Ellison commented:

“So far clinical trials have used bone marrow derived cells for heart repair after a heart attack. However, the improvements in heart function are modest and this could be because the bone marrow cells are not the best type of cell to be used to regenerate the lost contractile heart muscle or cardiomyocytes.

“The hearts’ own stem cells called ‘endogenous cardiac stem cells’ were identified in the adult mammalian heart by the groups of Nadal-Ginard (LJMU) and Anversa (Harvard) in 2003 and have changed the view of the heart as regenerative organ, and placed it squarely amongst other organs with regenerative potential such as the liver, skin, muscle, and brain.”

This latest research from LJMU has been published in PLoS ONE (Kawaguchi et al) and shows that endogenous cardiac stem cells identified as having a specific molecular signature, in that they express high amounts of the cardiac transcription factor GATA-4*, not only have potent cardiomyocyte regenerative potential but also have a pro-survival ‘paracrine’ and contractility effect on the survived cardiomyocytes.

These findings therefore provide a new focus on cell-to-cell communication and cell survival and contractility, as well as the type of cell used. This extends the knowledge of cardiac stem cells having a paracrine role yet identify for the first time the specific cardiac stem cell population which is responsible for having this pro-survival effect.

Georgina continued:

“In the new era of regenerative medicine it is essential to ascertain the ‘optimal’ type of cell to be used for regenerative myocardial therapies and a cell that has regenerative and renewal capacity, as well as exerting pro-survival and paracrine effects would be the ideal cell of choice and lead to the development of optimal protocols for cardiac regenerative medicine.

“Cardiac regenerative medicine will revolutionise heart surgery and reduce recovery times as well as save the NHS money in the long term, but it is vital that we work towards establishing a regenerative therapy which is an off-the-shelf, safe, effective, simple, available to all and affordable treatment. We are endeavouring to establish the optimal cardiac regenerative treatment as part of our research.”

The PLoS ONE article can be found at:
*These results were not evident when endogenous cardiac stem cells with low levels of GATA-4 were used.

Georgina was also chosen for the PLoS ONE Author Spotlight which you can read here:

Page last modified by Corporate Communications on 10 January 2011.
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