Researchers race to heal injured hearts with adult stem cells

Boston, MA—Once a mere fantasy, the idea of growing new, healthy heart tissue to replace damaged or diseased heart muscle is inching closer to reality. Researchers are exploring several routes to grow new heart muscle, according to the January issue of the Harvard Heart Letter .

One approach uses adult stem cells found in bone marrow or the bloodstream. Injected or infused into damaged heart tissue, these stem cells can take up residence and grow into healthy heart muscle. An alternative is to use immature muscle cells taken from the thigh; when injected into the heart, they adopt the characteristics of heart cells.

Scientists are also pursuing the possibility of using growth factors, hormones, or other substances to stimulate dormant stem cells in the heart itself to multiply and grow into healthy heart tissue. And a particularly innovative self-repair strategy involves coaxing some heart cells to regress to a stem-cell–like state and then stimulating them to produce young, healthy heart cells.

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