Dutch researchers at University Medical Center Utrecht and the Hubrecht Institute have succeeded in growing large numbers of stem cells from adult human hearts into new heart muscle cells. The stem cells are derived from material left over from open-heart operations. Until now, it was necessary to use embryonic stem cells to make this happen.
Researchers at UMC Utrecht used a simple method to isolate the stem cells from this material and reproduce them in the laboratory, which they then allowed to develop. The cells grew into fully developed heart muscle cells that contract rhythmically, respond to electrical activity, and react to adrenaline. “We’re able to make heart muscle cells in unprecedented quantities, and on top of it they’re all the same,” says researcher Pieter Doevendans. “This is good news in terms of treatment, as well as for scientific research and testing of potentially new drugs.”
Doevendans will use the cultured heart muscle cells to study things like cardiac arrhythmia. Stem cells from the hearts of patients with genetic heart defects can be grown into heart muscle cells in the lab, allowing researchers to study the cells responsible for the condition. This could mean that research into genetic heart conditions can move forward at a much faster pace. In the future, new heart muscle cells can likely be used to repair heart tissue damaged during a heart attack.