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Heart Stem Cells Move Closer to Human Treatments
Date:2/24/2010

Kevin Eggan, chief scientific officer for the New York Stem Cell Foundation and associate professor of stem cell and regenerative biology at Harvard University, noted two breakthrough treatments that would require steady production of stem cells.

One is a future "patch" made out of these cells to fix a damaged heart after a heart attack. Researchers also hope to fashion blood vessels out of stem cells for use in bypass surgery and other procedures.

"People are making very substantial progress in being able to make those various vascular cells you would need," Eggan said. "Transplanting those is something that will come from all of this."

More immediately, perhaps, is the use of stem cells to screen heart drugs, sort of like test-driving the drugs in preclinical trials, Eggan said.

"You can do this in a couple of different ways," Eggan said. Researchers could determine in a laboratory dish if a drug actually works on heart cells, he said. The other method would involve manufacturing heart cells for a variety of people to find out which cells the drugs work on.

"One of the tricky things about drug trials is they often don't work on all people equally well," Eggan explained. "You have to study a whole lot of people to be able to see any sort of effects. This would screen out people that the drug doesn't work on. It would enable personalized medicine."

One innovation that is close to market, Eggan said, is a method for identifying and eliminating toxic drugs before they go into clinical trials.

A system is in the works that would involve testing drugs on heart muscle cells in a lab dish.

"This could save enormous time and money in clinical trials," Eggan said.

Gene therapy has not advanced as far, he added, but predicts that it will combine with stem cell therapies in the future.

"The one good thing that really has come out is that nobody has been harmed by
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