A recent article in the journal NATURE from a team at the University of Washington in Seattle has shown an exciting way of using embryonic stem cells to revitalize heart tissue. The researchers took embryonic stems cells from humans and treated them with a simple growth media to induce differentiation into heart like ‘cardiomyocytes’. They then induced, in monkeys, a large ‘heart attack’ with death of a portion of the wall of the heart- mimicking the situation of a very bad heart ‘attack’ or MI. Injection of the stem cells into the dead tissue resulted in regrowth of the heart muscle- beating heart muscle.
Although this would seem to be far from our cartilage related issues, it is not. This is yet another example of how the DNA in certain cells can be re-programmed (in this case between species!) to make the type of tissue that is desired. If damaged tissue can be restored in situ, think of the consequences. The details of this kind of therapy will have to include a convenient way of introducing the cells to a target, and ‘engrafting’ or holding them in the right spot. Several previous trials at stem cell therapy, simply involving injection of cells into the bloodstream, have failed (including the recent Aldagen trial for stroke). One common factor of these failed trials is the lack of an appropriate delivery system. In this area the need for novel medical devices is obvious.