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ADVANCE Discourse: Lab

Healing Hearts

Published September 10, 2013 3:56 PM by Michael Jones

The concept of regenerative medicine is interesting. Of course, a technique that uses your body to heal itself rather than surgical procedures or even internal medications would be an ideal form of medicine, one that scientists continue to work on through stem cell research. A study from Harvard University and Karolinska Institutet demonstrated a breakthrough in prospective regenerative treatments in cases of a heart attack.

“This is the beginning of using the heart as a factory to produce growth factors for specific families of cardiovascular stem cells, and suggests that it may be possible to generate new heart parts without delivering any new cells to the heart itself,” said Kenneth Chien, MD, PhD, professor at both Harvard University and the Karolinska Intitutet, in a recent story about the study from Medical News Today (MNT).

The research team, led by Chien, detailed the study in Nature Biotechnology. According to the MNT article, the study used a synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA), which was modified to bypass the body’s defense system, to introduce a known growth factor called VEGFA. VEGFA can stop the stem cells already available in the heart from becoming muscle tissue and convert them to form coronary vessels instead. The introduction of the modified mRNA essentially tricked the heart into producing more VEFA, which then allowed it to regenerate its damaged parts following a heart attack.

“This moves us very close to clinical studies to regenerate cardiovascular tissues with a single chemical agent without the need for injecting any additional cells into the hearts,” continued Chien in the MNT piece.

In the MNT story, Chien further explained that, although the study stood out as a breakthrough for stem cell research and regenerative medicine, it is still in its early stages and faces challenges in transitioning from test mice, where it is currently being performed, to other animals. He also noted that eventually a new, more efficient technique would eventually need to be developed to deliver the synthetic mRNA into the heart. Despite only being in its early stages, however, the new technique is a promising step for the recovery of post-heart attack patients. 


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