How skin cells may help treat heart and Parkinson’s patients

  • IANS, New York
  • Updated: Apr 30, 2016 11:39 IST
Scientists hope that one day diseases like heart failure or Parkinson’s disease could be treated with drugs that help the heart and brain regenerate damaged areas from their own existing tissue cells. (Shutterstock)

In a major medical breakthrough, researchers at the Gladstone Institutes in the US, have transformed skin cells into heart cells and brain cells using a combination of chemicals. And what does that mean in layman’s terms? It means there is a possibility that, in the near future, heart failure can be prevented while diseases like Parkinson’s can be treated.

The team of researchers used chemical cocktails to gradually coax skin cells to change into organ-specific stem cell-like cells and, ultimately, into heart or brain cells.

“Reprogramming a patient’s own cells could provide the safest and most efficient way to regenerate dying or diseased heart muscle,” said one of the researchers Deepak Srivastava, director of cardiovascular and stem cell research at Gladstone Institutes in the US.

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“This method brings us closer to being able to generate new cells at the site of injury in patients,” Sheng Ding, also at Gladstone, noted.

The research lays the groundwork for one day being able to regenerate lost or damaged cells with pharmaceutical drugs.

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The key here is the ability to generate new cells at the site of injury in patients. (Shutterstock)

“Our hope is to one day treat diseases like heart failure or Parkinson’s disease with drugs that help the heart and brain regenerate damaged areas from their own existing tissue cells,” Ding added in a paper published in the journal Science.

The researchers used genes to convert scar-forming cells in the heart of animals into new muscle that improved the function of the heart, using a chemical reprogramming approach.

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The team conducted two studies using a cocktail of nine chemicals to change human skin cells into beating heart cells and brain cells. They began the process by changing the cells into a state resembling multi-potent stem cells, which can turn into many different types of cells in a particular organ.

With this method, more than 97 percent of the cells began beating and they also responded appropriately to hormones, and molecularly, they resembled heart muscle cells, not skin cells.

When the cells were transplanted into a mouse heart early in the process, they developed into healthy-looking heart muscle cells within the organ.

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In the second study, published in Cell Stem Cell, the scientists created neural stem cells from mouse skin cells using again the chemical cocktail consisting of nine molecules.

Over ten days, the cocktail changed the identity of the cells, until all of the skin cell genes were turned off and the neural stem cell genes were gradually turned on.

When transplanted into mice, the neural stem cells spontaneously developed into the brain cells and were also able to self-replicate, making them ideal for treating neurodegenerative diseases or brain injury.

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