Israeli scientists discover how to make beating heart cells out of human skin cells reprogrammed to become stem cells

The findings could lead to advances in disease research, and could in theory be used to repair damaged or diseased heart tissues.

Published in the latest issue of Circulation, the findings by Professor Lior Gepstein of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology could make it possible to clinically repair damaged human hearts. Such an application is at least 10 to 20 years away, says Gepstein, but the process can already be utilized for in-depth study of genetic diseases and the development of personalized drugs for irregular heartbeats and other inherited disorders. (In 10 or 20 years, there might not be an Israel anymore)

The team’s work is based on the research of Japanese scientists followed by other groups, who generated “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) from adult mouse and human skin cells. The iPSCs can be turned into almost any type of body cell – something that experts previously thought possible only with embryonic stem cells – and could, in theory, be used to repair damaged or diseased tissues.

Taking a patient’s own cells and turning them into iPSCs for use in tissue repair and regeneration would also eliminate the risk of rejection by the body.

Gepstein and his team from Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Rambam Medical Center used reprogrammed iPSCs derived from healthy human subjects’ skin cells with the characteristics of pluripotent embryonic stem cells. They were then able to convert them into heart cells with all the necessary properties such as expression of heart-related genes, spontaneous electrical activity, mechanical contraction, and response to various hormones such as adrenaline.

According to Gepstein, the rejuvenation of human cells and their transformation into iPSCs can be accomplished with almost any human cell.

Nearly eight years ago, Gepstein and colleagues made headlines by creating beating cardiac tissue in the lab from human stem cells. In 2007, he teamed with the Technion’s Dr. Shulamit Levenberg to create tiny blood vessels within the tissue. This breakthrough could eventually make it possible to implant the tissue in a diseased human heart.ISRAEL NATIONAL NEWS

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