Researchers have managed to reverse some of the damage caused by a heart attack using stem cells that were induced from connective tissue cells, according to a study published Monday.
The proof-of-concept study on mice is the first attempt to use induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells to treat heart disease.
The goal is to one day be able to use a patient's own cells to repair their heart rather than replace it with a donated heart, which are in short supply and require dangerous drugs to stop the body from rejecting the foreign organ.
"This iPS innovation lays the groundwork for translational applications," said study author Andre Terzic of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"Through advances in nuclear reprogramming, we should be able to reverse the fate of adult cells and customize 'on demand' cardiovascular regenerative medicine."
Terzic and his team genetically reprogrammed fibroblast cells - which contribute to the formation of connective tissues and scars - so that they became stem cells capable of developing into new heart muscle.
They transplanted those cells into damaged mouse hearts and found that within four weeks the cells had managed to: stop progression of structural damage; restore heart muscle performance lost after the heart attack; and regenerate tissue at the site of the damage.
Stem cells offer enormous potential for regenerative medicine because they are capable of being coaxed into becoming lab-dish replacements for heart, liver, skin, eye, brain, nerve and other cells destroyed by disease, accident, war or normal wear-and-tear.
They also offer great potential for curing disease such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and Type 1 diabetes, but research was limited because they were obtained from embryos.
Scientists discovered a way to "reprogram" adult skin cells into stem cells in 2007, which sidestepped the controversy over using embryos and exponentially increased the number of stem cells available for research purposes.
These iPS cells have not yet been approved for testing on humans and it will likely be years before any treatments are available.
The study was published in the peer review journal Circulation.