The limited regenerative capacity of the heart is a major factor in heart failure and death. Once cardiac cells are diseased, it’s hard for them to heal like your body would with a cut. Studying how the heart forms in fetuses and then matures is a natural step for researchers interested in generating and regenerating heart cells. They’re also investigating the effect of stem cell-derived cardiac cells on repairing damaged hearts and their potential to treat heart muscle diseases.
Cardiovascular progenitor cells (CPCs), a type of heart cell, are called building blocks because they’re used to form the heart during fetal development. They hold tremendous therapeutic potential because of their unique ability to develop into several different heart cell types. Researchers are studying how CPC cells can renew themselves in mice. They’re studying whether this renewal also occurs in humans and whether this is useful for repairing damaged hearts.
Because CPCs regenerate, scientists may be able to grow them in a dish. It’s not as easy to grow cells in a lab as it is in the body — they often have “developmental arrest” and don’t mature. However, a recent discovery of the pathways that lead a fetal cell into an adult cell will enable researchers to recreate adult heart tissue in the lab, which holds tremendous potential for new heart disease treatment.
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