Scientists convert skin cells to beating heart cells

Scripps Research Institute scientists have converted adult skin cells directly into beating heart cells efficiently without having to first go through the laborious process of generating embryonic-like stem cells. The powerful general technology platform could lead to new treatments for a range of diseases and injuries involving cell loss or damage, such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“This work represents a new paradigm in stem cell reprogramming,” said Scripps Research Associate Professor Sheng Ding, Ph.D., who led the study. “We hope it helps overcome major safety and other technical hurdles currently associated with some types of stem cell therapies.”

As the human body develops, embryonic-like stem cells multiply and transform themselves into more mature cell types through a process known as differentiation, producing all of the body’s different cell types and tissues. Past the embryonic stage, however, the human body has limited capacity to generate new cells to replace ones that have been lost or damaged.

Thus, scientists have been trying to develop ways to “reprogram” adult human cells back to a more embryonic-like, or pluripotent, state, from which they are able to divide and then change into any of the body’s cell types. Using these techniques, scientists aim to someday be able to take a patient’s own cells, say skin cells, change them into heart or brain cells, and then insert them back into the patient to fix damaged tissues

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