EU-funded heart experts have come together to study the mechanisms of cardiac development and regeneration seeking cell replacement sources.
Myocardial infarction constitutes a major health issue in Europe. Currently, the only treatment for severe heart failure is heart transplantation. Emerging scientific evidence indicates that cardiomyocytes can divide postnatally opening up a window for the development of regenerative treatments for cardiac diseases.
Cell therapy requires an in-depth understanding of how a tissue develops, is maintained and regenerates. The European ‘Development of cardiomyocyte replacement strategy for the clinic’ (Cardiocell) initiative is investigating heart development and regeneration aiming to identify sources for cell replacement therapy.
To monitor in vivo proliferation of cardiomyocytes, project partners have developed a pre-clinical model system and screened the ability of various compounds to induce endogenous cell division in the heart.
The consortium explored different types of pluripotent cell sources including embryonic stem cells (ESC) and reprogrammed somatic cells – known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) – to induce differentiation into the cardiomyocyte lineage.
Research on heart development identified a common ancestor cell for both skeletal and cardiac muscle. Combined with key factors that regulate the process of cardiac muscle regeneration, this discovery will pave the way for the ex vivo development of cardiomyocytes for transplantation.
Overall, the Cardiocell project has already generated novel insight into heart development and regeneration. Researchers expect that the study’s key findings will be implemented to derive cardiomyocytes ex vivo which could be utilised in transplantation procedures. The application of cell replacement therapy will significantly improve the outcome of patients with myocardial infarction.