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Pig Stem Cells Show Promise in Repairing Animals’ Heart Attack Damag

Johns Hopkins scientists have successfully grown large numbers of stem cells taken from adult pigs’ healthy heart tissue and used the cells to repair some of the tissue// damage done to those organs by lab-induced heart attacks. Pigs’ hearts closely resemble those in humans, making them a useful model in such research.

Following up on previous studies, Hopkins cardiologists used a thin tube to extract samples of heart tissue no bigger than a grain of rice within hours of the animals’ heart attacks, then grew large numbers of cardiac stem cells in the lab from tissue obtained through biopsy, and within a month implanted the cells into the pigs’ hearts. With help from a blue-dye tracking system, the scientists have shown that within two months the cells had developed into mature heart cells and vessel-forming endothelial cells.

“This is a relatively simple method of stem cell extraction that can be used in any community-based clinic, and if further studies show the same kind of organ repair that we see in pigs, it could be performed on an outpatient basis,” says Eduardo Marbán, M.D., Ph.D., senior study author and professor and chief of cardiology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart Institute. “Starting with just a small amount of tissue, we demonstrated that it was possible, very soon after a heart attack, to use the healthy parts of the heart to regenerate some of the damaged parts.”

Marbán cautions that no overall improvements in heart function have yet been shown in these studies, which were not designed to establish such changes and used relatively low numbers of infused cells (10 million or less). “But we have proof of principle, and we are planning to use larger numbers of cells implanted in different sites of the heart to test whether we can restore function as well,” he says. “If the answer is yes, we could see the first phase of studies in people in late 2007.”

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