Dr. Kenneth R. Chien of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University
discusses the potential for induced pluripotent stem cells to help repair the heart during the recent Symposium on Regenerative Cardiovascular Medicine.
An international array of more than 500 stem cell experts gathered on the NIH campus last fall to participate in the third Symposium on Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine, an event hosted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
During the symposium held at Natcher Auditorium,
scientists discussed the latest advances in cardiovascular stem cell research and considered
which questions still need to be answered.
“Research results are really taking off,” said then-NHLBI director Dr. Elizabeth Nabel during
her keynote presentation that touched on the state of the field. She outlined NHLBI’s roadmap for stem cell research, which includes funding efforts such as the recently announced Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium. The consortium
involves 18 teams of researchers working
to develop the high-potential field of stem and progenitor cell tools and therapies.
Several talks examined advances in embryonic human stem cells as well as induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells, which are artificially derived human stem cells that can give rise to any fetal or adult cell type. These types of genetic tools could one day help the heart heal itself following
a heart attack, Nabel said.
While IPS cells are a hot research topic, questions
remain about how they compare to embryonic stem cells.
“We clearly need to know more about the similarities
and differences between human embryonic
stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells,” Nabel said. Detailing the differences will be vital before moving into human clinical trials to test future therapies using IPS cells.
Dr. Kenneth R. Chien, a researcher from Massachusetts
General Hospital and Harvard University,
discussed the potential of IPS cells during
his symposium talk. He leads a team of researchers participating in the Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium.
Using IPS cells, Chien’s research team created
heart muscle cells that beat like a heart. If researchers find a way to apply this technology to humans, it could help the adult human heart grow new tissue.
“We are on our way to making a biological pace maker,” Chien said of the potential application of such research efforts.
Dr. Bernard Kuhn, a researcher from the Children’s
Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, discussed his research, which suggests that it may be possible to coerce existing adult heart muscle cells into reproducing.
For years, scientists questioned whether the adult heart had the capacity to produce new muscle cells at all. Recent research suggests that small numbers of muscle cells in the heart renew, but not enough to heal major damage. This line of research could lead to ways to encourage more new heart tissue growth, which could help replace damaged muscle tissue following a heart attack, Kuhn explained.