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NHLBI Explores Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute invited scientific researchers from around the world to its Symposium on Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine, Sept. 13-14. This first meeting on the subject at NIH brought together more than 500 attendees with the goal of bridging the gap between basic research and clinical medicine.

A variety of speakers covered not only the principles of stem cell biology but also recent discoveries that aim to move the field toward the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the organizing committee sought to identify new areas where cell-based therapies can be applied, as well as how cardiovascular patients might be treated with such therapies.

The meeting brought top international researchers in the basic science of stem cell biology together with experts in hematology and clinical cardiovascular medicine; attendees came from Germany, Venezuela, Israel, Japan, Canada, Australia, Scotland and Korea. Their lectures and discussion covered the emerging science of stem cells, various preclinical animal models for studying cell-based therapies and clinical applications to treat cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Elizabeth Nabel delivered opening remarks at the symposium on cardiovascular regenerative medicine.

The meeting approached these subjects by simultaneously covering adult stem cells, those that are already dedicated to becoming one type of tissue or another, and human embryonic stem cells, cells that can become any type of human tissue. The challenge of this work is to figure out how such cells can be used to repair the injured and ischemic tissue associated with cardiovascular diseases.

With this in mind, the organizing committee planned a program that spanned stem cells in organisms that model specific diseases; tissue stem cells; blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells; the stem cells of bone, cartilage, tendon, fat and muscle (mesenchymal stem cells); skeletal stem cells; and endothelial progenitor cells. Also addressed were fundamental concepts such as differentiation, fusion, specification, patterning and homing, the details of which, it is hoped, will lead investigators to potential human applications.

At the heart of regenerative medicine is the ancient human desire to have our injured and diseased bodies regenerate with healthy cells and tissues. The Greek legend from Prometheus Bound is perhaps the oldest and best-known myth of regeneration and was used to symbolize the hope and promise of regenerative medicine at the meeting. Prometheus angered Zeus by giving humankind the secret of fire. As punishment, Zeus chained Prometheus to a desolate rock and sent an eagle to eat his liver and skin, which grew back each day, ensuring Prometheus' recurring torment. In the modern world, scientific researchers and clinicians hope to transcend myths by creating therapies that truly renew the damaged cells and tissues.

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