Skins Cells Turned into a Heart?

By Adam Cronin

Researchers from Haifa, Israel, have, for the first time, succeeded in taking skin cells from a patient and transforming it into healthy, beating heart tissue that could be used to treat heart failure.

Lior Gepstein, from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, led the work. “We have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young—the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born.”

While it may be up to 10 years before we see a start to clinical trials, this is certainly a promising breakthrough in engineering. Because the stem cells are harvested from the skin or blood, instead of an embryo, this approach has also avoided the ethics problems that have nearly halted all stem cell research.

These “human induced pluripotent stem cells” (hiPSCs) may be capable of differentiating to become any type of cell needed. In this study, they took two men with heart failure—one aged 51, the other 61—and transformed the hiPSCs by adding three genes and then a small molecule known as valproic acid to the nucleus of the cell.

By growing these new cardiomyocytes in a Petri dish, they developed into heart muscle tissue, which grew together with existing cardiac tissue. Within 24-48 hours, both types of tissue were beating together.

As a final step, this newly created tissue was transplanted into healthy rat hearts, and it was shown to establish connections with cells in the host tissue. Because this tissue will be derived from the same patient receiving it, Gepstein hopes that rejection of the tissue will not be an issue.

Interested in following a similar path? If you’d like to discover amazing new technologies, medicines, and treatments or attend engineering school and see where it takes you, you should consider going the same route as Lior Gepstein. Gepstein received his M.D., and then proceeded to obtain a Ph.D. in biophysics and physiology. Johns Hopkins has an excellent pre-med program, and they are also on the “I Want to Be a Doctor… But Wait, I Forgot to Take Science!” list featured on CollegeXpress.