Unlocking a Cell’s Potential to Regenerate The Heart


Source: Gladstone Institutes

Summary: In a new study, researchers finally developed the first efficient and stable method to make adult cardiomyocytes divide and repair hearts damaged by heart attacks, at last in animal models.


Some organisms have a remarkable capacity for regenerating tissue. If a fish or salamander suffers heart damage, for instance, their cells are able to divide and successfully repair the injured organ. Imagine if you could do the same. In the embryo, human heart cells can divide and multiply, allowing the heart to grow and develop. The problem is that, right after birth, cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) lose their ability to divide. The same is true for many other human cells, including those of the brain, spinal cord, and pancreas.  For decades, the scientific community has been trying to do just that, with limited success. Until now, attempts have been ineffective and poorly reproducible. In a new study, researchers from the Gladstone Institutes have finally developed the first efficient and stable method to make adult cardiomyocytes divide and repair hearts damaged by heart attacks, at last in animal models. The research findings were published in the journal Cell.

Heart Cell Regeneration

Credit: Gladstone Institutes/Cell

The research team identified 4 genes involved in controlling the cycle of cell division. They found that when combined, and only when combined, these genes cause mature cardiomyocytes to re-enter the cell cycle. This results in the cells dividing and rapidly reproducing. They tested their technique in animal models and cardiomyocytes derived from human stem cells. They used a rigorous approach to track whether the adult cells were truly dividing in the heart by genetically marking newly divided cells with a specific color that could be easily monitored. They demonstrated that 15-20% of the cardiomyocytes were able to divide and stay alive due to the four-gene cocktail. This could lead to a powerful regenerative approach to treat not only heart failure, but also brain damage, diabetes, hearing loss, and blindness. And one day, the human might just outperform the salamander.

Senior investigator, Deepak Srivastava said, “Heart cells were particularly challenging because when they exit the cell cycle after birth, their state is really locked down—which might explain why we don’t get heart tumors”, “Now that we know our method is successful with this difficult cell type, we think it could be used to unlock other cells’ potential to divide, including nerve cells, pancreatic cells, hair cells in the ear, and retinal cells.”


More Information: Tamer M.A. Mohamed et al, “Regulation of Cell Cycle to Stimulate Adult Cardiomyocyte Proliferation and Cardiac Regeneration”, Cell (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.02.014


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