Matters of the Heart

A study by researchers from Shinshu University, published in Nature, proposes a new way to fix, previously irreversible, heart damage. The process involves transplanting stem cells to induce cardiac self-repair. They've managed to transplant primate heart stem cells into another primate, successfully resulting to improved cardiac function.

Stem cell transplant isn't exactly a new development for the treatment of heart problems. As with many transplants there is the risk of being identified as a pathogen by the recipient's immune system. According to the research, the key is a protein found on the surface of donor stem cells.

Credits: Shiba, et al.

Usually, this protein is what the immune system uses to normally target harmful strangers. If the protein on the donor stem cells match those of the recipient, the problem is solved. Non-native cells would no longer be attacked by the recipient's immune system.

Furthermore, using a relatively mild immunosuppressant, the grafted stem cells were able to survive for 12 weeks. The results were improved functioning in the damaged heart cells.

The ability to repair damaged heart cells even before symptoms of cardiac problems arise, makes the leading cause of death in the United States (and the world) more manageable.

Technology and the Body

The transplant of heart cells still has room for improvement. The researchers found that hearts with grafted cells tend to beat more irregularly. While the irregular beating was not severe enough to cause harm, it warrants further research.

Such advances in biotechnology have began to improve medical research. Ethical issues notwithstanding, stem cells have proven its own merit over the past few months with applications in Parkinson's research, Alzheimer's treatment, and even for stroke and diabetes.

And it's not just limited to stem cells.

Medical advances using various technology have, literally, allowed us to restore our bodies — from blood vessels and bones to egg cells.

We're more capable than ever to repair our own bodies. While we're probably still long ways off from solving many of the biggest health issues known to man, we are getting there faster than ever.

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