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Human Heart Can Make New Cells
Date:4/2/2009

Discovery could lead to ways of regrowing damaged cardiac tissue, experts say,,,,

THURSDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- Solving a longstanding mystery, scientists have found that the human heart continues to generate new cardiac cells throughout the life span, although the rate of new cell production slows with age.

The finding, published in the April 3 issue of Science, could open a new path for the treatment of heart diseases such as heart failure and heart attack, experts say.

"We find that the beating cells in the heart, cardiomyocytes, are renewed," said lead researcher Dr. Jonas Frisen, a professor of stem cell research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. "It has previously not been known whether we were limited to the cardiomyocytes we are born with or if they could be renewed," he said.

The process of renewing these cells changes over time, Frisen added. In a 20-year-old, about 1 percent of cardiomyocytes are exchanged each year, but the turnover rate decreases with age to only 0.45 percent by age 75.

"If we can understand how the generation of new cardiomyocytes is regulated, it may be potentially be possible to develop pharmaceuticals that promote this process to stimulate regeneration after, for example, a heart attack," Frisen said.

That could lead to treatment that helps restore damaged hearts.

"A lot of people suffer from chronic heart failure," noted co-author Dr. Ratan Bhardwaj, also from the Karolinska Institute. "Chronic heart failure arises from heart cells dying," he said.

With this finding, scientists are "opening the door to potential therapies to having ourselves heal ourselves," Bhardwaj said. "Maybe one could devise a pharmaceutical agent that would make heart cells make new and more cells to overcome the problem they are facing."

But roadblocks remain. According to Bhardwaj, scientists do not yet know how to increase
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