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Scientists Are Close to Make the Heart Repair Itself With Stem Cells

Though heart tissue has little capacity for repair when damaged, scientists have made a crucial step in understanding how to coax the heart into producing new healthy cardiac muscle cells from stem cells. The use of a zebrafish model system let the researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai, China to find compounds that can stimulate heart stem cells to develop into properly functioning heart muscle cells. The research results announced in the December issue of the journal Chemistry & Biology may help scientists develop new approaches to treating heart after myocardial infarction and heart failure.

Despite recent medical developments, treating damaged hearts remains a challenge to the scientists. The researchers focused on finding agents able to enhance regenerative potential of the heart by coaxing stem cells to differentiate into beating heart cells. To screen different compounds for their effect on the heart repair, the scientists used zebrafish model. Zebrafish is good for modeling the heart development as it has transparent embryos which fluorescent beating hearts that can be easily studied.

Having screened about 4,000 compounds, the scientists found out three molecules having similar structure that helped to selectively enlarge the embryonic heart size. These compounds known as cardionogen-1, -2, and -3, promoted or inhibited heart formation depending on the stage of heart development when they were administered.

Administration of cardionogens stimulated production of new cardiac myocytes from stem cells resulting in zebrafish heart growth. After that, the researchers showed the ability of cardionogens to stimulate embryonic stem cells to convert into cardiac muscle cells on a mice model. As a next step, they plan to test cardionogens on adult humans.