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One of the things that motivates us to continue doing what we do is the compendium of ongoing studies looking at a variety of ways to use human stem cells as a healing tool. In light of the suffering that so many people endure, selling things like centrifuges and stem cell kits seems like such a minor thing. But it is our contribution toward helping improve the lives of hurting people.
In light of that, we are always on the lookout for new studies showing areas of promise for stem cell therapies. We recently ran across research now being conducted in Hong Kong. The research focuses on finding ways to use stem cells to treat the damage of myocardial infarction in heart disease patients.
City University of Hong Kong researchers recently announced they had developed a stem cell procedure that can rejuvenate both damaged heart tissue and the vascular system. The procedure uses two kinds of stem cells. Though still in its preliminary stages, the research looks promising.
As a clinician, we assume you understand the basics of myocardial infarction. Also known as MI, your patients probably refer to myocardial infarction as heart attack. When it occurs, it causes irreversible damage to heart muscle tissue. It can lead to irreversible scar formation and damaged cardiac function. In some cases, heart failure is inevitable.
The only current treatment for worst-case scenarios is heart transplant. But as you know, transplants are extremely risky and do not necessarily guarantee positive outcomes. A lack of donors also makes it difficult to find a heart for every patient in need. Thus, some other treatment to reverse MI damage is welcome.
Dr. Ban Kiwon, a stem cell biologist and one of the researchers working on the current project, explains that stem cell therapies for MI are best when they focus on repairing both cardiac muscle tissue and vasculatures at the same time. Repairing both greatly enhances recovery for heart attack patients.
So, what are the researchers working on? A multi-pronged approach using two different kinds of stem cells to achieve simultaneous repair. They are utilizing mesenchymal stem cells derived from human bone marrow alongside induced pluripotent stem cells.
Mesenchymal stem cells are adult stem cells capable of differentiating into different forms of tissue of the same general type. For example, stem cells derived from adipose fat can be coaxed to differentiate into muscle tissue, as the cells are of a similar type.
Induced pluripotent stem cells are stem cells capable of differentiating into any of the five germ layers. The term ‘induced’ refers to the fact that these are human stem cells that have been induced in a lab setting to take on the properties of pluripotency.
To make the procedure work, researchers have chosen two distinct entry points. The mesenchymal stem cells are introduced via a patch applied directly to the infarct area while the pluripotent cells are injected into the heart. Thus far the study has only been conducted on lab rats. However, the results have been promising. Test animals have shown improved heart and vascular function as well as tissue regeneration.
As is always the case with these kinds of studies, more research is to follow. Researchers must now take what they have learned from lab animals and apply it to an eventual treatment for human beings. We join with heart disease patients from all over the world in hoping they succeed. Words cannot describe the hope a stem cell treatment would give to heart attack patients.
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