Transplanting a region of damaged tissue with a combination of both heart muscle and healthy cells taken from the outer layer of the heart wall could help the organs recover from the damage caused by a heart attack, suggests a new study.
Scientists from the University of Cambridge in collaboration with scientists from the University of Washington have used supportive epicardial cells developed from human stem cells to help transplanted heart cells live longer.
Using 3D human heart tissue grown in the laboratory from human stem cells, they tested the cell combination and found that the supportive epicardial cells help heart muscle cells grow and mature. Doing so could also improve the ability to contract and relax the heart muscle.
During the experiment in rats, scientists found that the combination allowed the transplanted cells to survive and restore lost body muscle and blood cells.
According to scientists, this is a ray of hope for understanding how supportive epicardial cells help drive cardiac regeneration.
They realized, "Understanding these key subtleties will bring them a little closer to trying regenerative heart treatments in clinical prologues."
People suffering from heart failure cannot regenerate their damaged hearts, and the only cure is heart transplantation. Ultimately, these researchers hope that, by harnessing the regenerative power of stem cells, they will one day be able to heal human hearts through a patient's cells.
Dr Sanjay Sinha, a BHF finance researcher and head of the study at the University of Cambridge said: "There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK with heart failure – many are on race day for a lifetime of heart transplantation. But with only about 200 heart transplants performed annually in the UK, we need to start finding alternative treatments."
Dr Johannes Bargehr, first author of the study at the University of Cambridge said: "Our research shows the huge potential of stem cells in one day becoming the first heart failure therapy. Although we still have some way to go, we think we're one giant step closer, and that's incredibly exciting. "
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which partially funded the research, said: "Despite advances in medical treatments, survival rates for heart failure remain poor and life expectancy is worse than for many cancers. Detections are desperately needed to ease the devastation caused by this terrible condition.
"When it comes to healing broken hearts, the cells are still not in keeping with their early promise. We hope this latest research represents the turning of the tide in the use of these remarkable cells."
The British Heart Foundation has funded the study (BHF), Medical Research Council, and the National Institute for Health Research. The study is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.