Hope of Repair for Damaged Hearts
Nigel Hawkes,
Health Editor
The London Times

Thursday, August 2, 2001; The prospect of fully repairing hearts damaged by heart attacks has come a step closer. Israeli scientists have produced human heart cells from embryonic stem cells. If placed in a heart, they believe, the cells would develop into muscle that is lost in a heart attack.

Stem cells are unprogrammed cells with the potential to develop into any cells of the body. The team, led by Lior Gepstein from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, worked with a line of stem cells derived from early human embryos. They were grown in culture and then placed in a fluid containing growth factors, which control the development of stem cells into various specialized cells in the body. As they divided, the stem cells combined into microscopic clumps called embryoid bodies. In about a tenth of these, the researchers found small groups of [20,000 - 30,000] cells that were spontaneously contracting -- just like the cells, called cardiomyocytes, that develop into heart tissue in an embryo.

The scientists, who report their findings today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, then carried out tests to see if the cells were indeed cardiomyocytes. The cells passed with "flying colors."

Heart muscle cells grown in this way could be injected into failing hearts to restore their power. However, growing a heart would be much more difficult because it would require the right genes to be turned on in the right order and at the right time, for it to develop in all its complexity. [ Editor's Note: This latter suggestion is a foolish and gratuitous notion that one would want to do an organ transplant, which lacks a basic understanding of what therapeutic interventions are all about. One wants to rebuild the heart from the inside out, gradually. Not transplant it in one fell swoop. And that goes for any organ, not just the heart.] Sir Charles George, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said of the achievement reported today: "It gives real hope that people with heart disease may benefit from stem-cell technology in the future."