In the near future, hearts that have just suffered a heart attack will be able to repair themselves, according to an incredible discovery of how to reeducate cardiac stem cells to repair damaged hearts. In fact, stem cells normally perform the delicate task of repairing cardiac muscle, but after a heart attack the cells no longer carry out this highly important self-repair.
Italian scholars at the ‘Sapienza’ University in Rome and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo, have discovered why these cells stop functioning correctly, and now understand how to induce them to repair damage from heart attacks. The announcement was made during the 69th Congress of the Italian Society of Cardiologists in Rome by Professor Antonio Musaro’ of the ‘Sapienza’ University in Rome.
Musaro’ said, “With our studies conducted together with Doctor Nadia Rosenthal of the EMBL we have learned why stem cells present in the heart after damage from a heart attack or trauma, do not correctly function. In fact, instead of producing functional contractile tissue that allows the damage to be ‘repaired’, they stop functioning or even produce non-functional fibrous tissue. This occurs because the heart attack or damage creates an environment that is hostile to normal stem cells activity.”
“We have learned that if we modify the environment immediately after the event that produced the damage, stem cells can resume their correct function. This also explains why often a simple stem cell transplant does not give the expected results.” Musaro’ underlined, “Failure could be due to an unsuitable environment.” Once scientists discovered that it was the environment that makes stem cells unable to function correctly, it was necessary to find a system that restores an ideal environment.
At this point they resorted to growth factors introduced into the damaged cardiac muscle. Musaro’ added, “Our research allowed us to pinpoint a particular growth factor, MlGF-1, which proved to be suitable to modify the environment, activate stem cells, and efficiently repair the damage. MlGF-1 is a factory normally present in various tissues but in different pathological conditions, its does not function. This is why it is necessary to introduce it externally. Right now, these discoveries have given encouraging results on animal models,” concluded Musaro’.
Francesco Fedele, Director of the Department of Cardiology at ‘Sapienza’ University in Rome and President of the Italian Society of Cardiologists said, “It is a truly important discovery because it paves a new and strongly innovative way for the ‘intelligent’ use of stem cells. This study underlines how new technologies, like MRI‘s must be used to precisely characterize tissue after a heart attack or highlight possible favorable or unfavorable environmental conditions. Our hope is that soon, research will go from the lab to the patient.”