Scientists identify a stem cell injection that could help repair broken hearts

Written by Alexandra Thompson

Researchers from Imperial College London have identified stem cells that help repair heart attack damage.

In research published in Nature Communications, and supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), researchers from Imperial College London (London, UK) identified a stem cell that when injected into mice resulted in repair to heart attack damage.

After 12 weeks, mice who had received the stem cell treatment had a significant proportion of their damaged heart muscle regenerated, which prevented heart failure. Heart failure is a debilitating condition that leaves sufferers unable to carry out simple tasks, owing to the heart being unable to pump blood around the body sufficiently, and currently affects over 0.5 million people in the UK alone. Severe heart failure is a terminal illness, and at present a heart transplant is the only cure.

The BHF Mending Broken Hearts Appeal funds research into regenerative medicines to find a cure for heart disease, and Imperial College London, where this research took place, is one of three BHF Centres of Regenerative Medicine. “A crucial next step for this research will be to establish if the human heart has similar heart-repairing stem cells to those pinpointed by this method in mice,” stated Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the BHF.

This research team identified a cell-surface protein found on stem cells known to have heart repairing properties in mice. They used the protein, called PDGFRa, to screen for, purify and multiply a sufficient number of these repairing stem cells for injection into the damaged hearts of mice, with positive results.

The researchers hope that they will be able to find similar cells in humans. Professor Michael Schneider, a BHF Professor and co-lead author of the study, explains: “When we injected stem cells with this protein into damaged hearts, we saw a significant level of heart repair. Now that we know which stem cells to use, we want to find their equivalent in human hearts for more efficient heart repair and regeneration after heart attacks… Future treatments could be injections of stem cells, as in our current experiments, or use of the healing proteins that these cells make.”