What your skin cells can do for you: Regenerate damaged heart muscle

Jenny Decker RN's picture
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Scientists have discovered a new use for skin cells and that is to help regenerate damaged heart muscle.

In a new study that was recorded in the most May 2012 issue of European Heart Journal, scientists have discovered that skin cells may have more functions that previously thought. Stem cells were taken from two heart failure patients and they were adjusted to have reprogramming properties. They were then able to induce the cells to differentiate into cardiac cells. Although the stem cells were taken from elderly men, the beating cells that resulted in a petri dish were much like cells at birth.

With these new cardiac cells, the scientists then transplanted them into rats. The results were very promising. What was originally skin cells turned to heart cells, these began to engraft, survive within the heart and to be able to integrate with other heart cells.

The heart cells began to repair damaged heart muscle. This is exciting news because even in patients without heart failure, if a person has had some form of heart damage, this turns to scar tissue and then the patients require medication in order to keep the heart functioning as much as it can. It is almost science fiction to think that the heart may be able to repair itself. Scientists and experts alike are thrilled at the possibilities this new research may present.

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However, there are a few things to keep in mind. Because it works in rats does not necessarily mean it will work in humans. Research often begins with rats before it is tried on humans. This is to observe any possible harmful effects that are not anticipated. Research also takes a very long time. Much work remains in this new field that may have just emerged. It can take as much as five to ten years before clinical trials begin on humans, which then may take years before any treatment derived from research can be used.

The potential that damaged heart muscle may be able to regenerate itself is a new and hopeful way to treat heart patients. The researchers feel that a new field of science may have just emerged. That science is suggested to be cardiac regenerative medicine.

Heart failure occurs for many reasons including coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and an enlarged heart. Traditional treatment includes an exercise plan, changes in diet, certain medications, and sometimes surgery. A good way to describe heart failure is that the heart cannot pump as effectively as it once did, moving blood through the heart slower and causing the pressure in the heart to increase. Thus the body is unable to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Along with the decreased ability to pump effectively, the kidneys then become unable to work effectively as well. This causes fluid build up, leaving swelling of the arms, legs, ankles, feet, lungs, and other organs.

Some of the signs and symptoms of heart failure include swelling and water retention, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and rapid or irregular heartbeats. A person may have one or all of these symptoms. All of the signs and symptoms do not have to be present to indicate heart failure. Please visit your physician if you have any of these symptoms.

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