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New stem cell combination could help to repair damaged hearts

Published: 05 August 2019

NIHR researchers have successfully transplanted stem cells onto human heart tissue to improve the function of heart muscle, a new procedure that could one day help patients with heart failure.

The researchers at the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre found that transplanting a combination of both heart muscle cells and supportive cells from the outer layer of the heart wall onto an area of damaged tissue may help the heart recover from the damage.

Scientists have been trying to use stem cells to repair damaged hearts for a number of years. Efforts have been unsuccessful so far, mainly because the vast majority of transplanted cells die within a few days.

Dr Sanjay Sinha and his team at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington, have used supportive epicardial cells developed from human stem cells to help transplanted heart cells live longer.

The research, published in Nature Biotechnology, used 3D human heart tissue grown in the lab from human stem cells to test the cell combination, finding that the supportive epicardial cells helped heart muscle cells to grow and mature. The cell combination also improved the heart muscle cells' ability to contract and relax.

Researchers now hope to understand how the supportive epicardial cells help to drive heart regeneration. Understanding these key details will bring them one step closer to testing heart regenerative therapies in clinical trials for conditions such as heart failure.

Dr Sinha, leader of the study at the University of Cambridge, said: "There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK living with heart failure - many are in a race against time for a life-saving heart transplant. But with only around 200 heart transplants performed each year in the UK, it's absolutely essential that we start finding alternative treatments."

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.


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