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Skin Cells Turned Into Working Heart Muscle

Research could lead to new treatments for organ's diseases that have genetic cause

THURSDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- It may be possible to use skin cells to create stem cells that can repair damaged hearts, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report.

In late 2007, UW-Madison researchers showed that skin cells could be turned back into stem cells. In this new study, these induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells were used to create working heart-muscle cells (cardiomyocytes).

The research was published in the Feb. 12 issue of Circulation Research.

"It's an encouraging result, because it shows that those cells will be useful for research and may someday be useful in therapy," lead researcher Tim Kamp, a professor of medicine at the UW Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a university news release. "If you have a heart failure patient who is in dire straits -- and there are never enough donor hearts for transplantation -- we may be able to make heart cells from the patient's skin cells, and use them to repair heart muscle. That's pretty exciting."

However, much more research is required before that kind of therapy may be possible.

"We're excited about it, because it's some of the first research to show it can be done, but in the future, we'll probably say, 'Well, of course, it can be done,'" Kamp said. "But you don't know until you do it. It's a very mysterious and complicated dance to get these cells to go from skin cells to stem cells to heart cells."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about stem cells.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Wisconsin-Madison, news release, Feb. 12, 2009

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