SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --The dream of repairing hearts damaged by a heart attack has been a frustrating challenge, and for a good reason.
Unlike many other organs in the body, hearts don't contain enough adult stem cells to help them regenerate.
But what if a drug could change that? "This is exactly the holy grail actually we've been working on for more than the last decade," said Sheng Ding, Ph.D. with San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes.
In a major breakthrough, Ding and his team at Gladstone said they've identified a cocktail of molecules that can coax human skin cells into becoming living, beating heart cells. And what's more, when they implanted them into a damaged mouse heart, they bolstered the existing heart muscle. "We were able to show actually improved heart function after the heart attack in this mouse model," Ding said.
The concept was pioneered in part by Deepak Srivastava, M.D., Ph.D., who directs stem cell research at Gladstone. But the former method requires genetic manipulation to create the cells. Ding's team believes the chemical method could someday lead to targeted therapies for damaged hearts, potentially including a regenerating heart patch or even a heart attack drug to reverse the damage. "We're really thrilled to move this to the next step. Having an impact on patients is really what we look for," Ding said.
If all goes well, researchers believe they could be ready for limited human trials in two to five years, which may usher in a new era for treating damaged hearts.
And one additional note, the Gladstone team has also used a similar technique to produce neural stem cells, opening up the possibility of someday treating brain diseases like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease.
Written and produced by Tim Didion