Medical research must be one of the truly interesting, rewarding and intriguing fields to work in.
Not only do you get to spend your days refining new innovations that will change the health outlook and improve the lives of millions, but your waking hours are spent in a constant state of wonder and creativity asking the question -- What if?
For example, what if your body’s own stem cells could be used to heal damaged heart muscles?
What if you didn’t need stems cells to repair a damaged heart?
What if you already had everything you needed inside you already and a damaged heart muscle could simply regenerate and repair itself?
Think of the possibilities!
The field of regenerative medicine is an exciting and relatively new field of medicine.
Most of us are familiar on some level with stem cell research. Found in bone marrow, umbilical cords, and the placenta, stem cells possess the unique ability to divide and become specialized cells, including heart muscle cells.
As cells from which all other cells are generated, the stem cell is the only cell in the body which possesses this ability to become a new type of cell.
For some time, researchers worldwide have been exploring ways to harvest and use stem cells to repair damaged heart muscles.
Now, researchers from Duke University Medical Center have taken regenerative medicine in a new direction by asking this simple question -- What if damaged heart muscles could simply regenerate without the necessity of stem cells?
While this may sound like science fiction, it may become a reality in the not-so-distant future. For the first time ever, Duke University researchers were able to convert heart muscle scar tissue into healthy heart muscle cells in a live animal subject.
As with other parts of the body, the heart muscle can form scar tissue, or fibroblasts, after an injury such as a heart attack. Led by the study’s senior author, Dr. Victor J. Dzau, researchers implanted microRNAs into these fibroblasts.
MicroRNAs are molecules which regulate and control gene activity. The microRNAs literally reprogrammed the scar tissue with the new command to become cells that make up the heart muscle.
Researchers not only used microRNAs to trigger the conversion of scar tissue into healthy heart muscle cells in a laboratory environment, but were able to reproduce the results in a live mouse.
The next phase of tissue regeneration studies will be conducted on larger animals. Researchers are excited about the findings as well as the possibilities opened for potential future treatments and therapies.
Mayo Clinic 2010 Annual Report: Research –Regenerative heart stem cells. The Mayo Clinic. 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.org/annualreport/2010/research/damaged_hearts.html
Duke University Medical Center (2012, April 26). Scar tissue turned into heart muscle without using stem cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from
Reviewed May 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith