Researchers at San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes are using a groundbreaking technique to create living beating, heart cells.
"It's certainly one of the things our lab and similar labs have been trying to figure out for two decades, so we're very excited," Dr. Deepak Srivastiva said.
Srivastia and his team at Gladstone Institutes isolated key genetic factors responsible for creating heart muscle. They then used those factors to reprogram tissue cells to become beating heart cells.
It is a technique they believe could eventually be used to repair damaged hearts.
"Maybe load it on a stent in the vessel that feeds the heart and then or a week or two, is able to reprogram cells that are already in the heart, and turn them into new muscle that could help the heart squeeze better," Srivastiva said.
The reprogramming technique builds on the work of Gladstone scientist Shinya Yamanaka, who first discovered how to turn skin cells into a type of stem cell known as induced-pluripotent stem cells.
Those so-called IPS cells can then grow into any type of cell in the body. But this new technique skips that stage entirely.
"We've basically jumped over the stem cell state and gone directly from a skin cell into a beating heart cell without ever turning that cell into a stem cell," Srivastiva said.
That breakthrough appears to avoid one of the risks that has limited the use of IPS cells in treating humans. The reprogrammed IPS cells tend to grow unpredictably and can turn into cancerous tumors
Uta Grieshammer is with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which helped fund the research.
"And that hurdle of cellular therapy would not have to be a worry with direct reprogramming," Grieshammer said.
She cautions that other potential cancer risks also need to be researched.
Still, Srivastiva believes labs around the world will now begin to use the same strategy on a variety of cell types.
"We think this can occur for brain cells, it may be possible for pancreatic cells to make insulin, but I think one by one over the next year, we'll see this sort of paradigm shift for most cell types in the body," Srivastiva said.
The Gladstone team's original work was done in mice. They are currently working to duplicate the same technique in humans and expect to reach that goal sometime next year.
Written and produced by Tim Didion