According to the Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (1). The medical community is constantly looking for new technologies and discoveries to treat heart disease more effectively. Methods include mechanical based therapies such as artificial heart valves and drug based approaches as with anticoagulant medications. Recently, exciting new discoveries have been made by the scientific community in the development of stem cell based therapies. If scientist could identify and cultivate cells that would reestablish oxygenated blood flow to damaged heart tissue and generate new muscle tissue, it would change the landscape of cardiovascular medicine. Actually, this process has already begun as research focuses on a specific cell with these qualities, the mesenchymal stem cell.
Mesenchymal stem cells originate from the middle germ layer of an embryo called the mesoderm. They play a vital role in the formation of connective tissue such as bone, cartilage, marrow, fat and blood. They are also precursor cells that help to produce cardiac, skeletal, and smooth muscle. Mesenchymal stem cells are found in every organ of the body but are most commonly obtained from bone marrow. Mesenchymal stem cells are classified as multi-potent stem cells. Multi-potent stem cells can transform into many different cell types that are of the same lineage. These innate traits make them prime candidates for use in developing heart disease treatments. While research and clinical trials are still in their infant stages; mesenchymal stem cells possess desirable characteristics, which are necessary, to successfully regenerate heart tissue and restore heart function after heart attack.
One of the most important traits of the mesenchymal stem cell is the ability to differentiate into many cell types. Differentiation is the process of an uncommitted cell transforming into a specific cell type in order to perform a specialized function. An example of cell differentiation is an uncommitted stem cell changing into a red blood cell to carry oxygen throughout the body. The idea of using bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells to repair heart muscle tissue is based on the cells ability to turn into specialized heart muscle cells, prompting new growth to repair damaged tissue (Lasala and Minguell, Bone Marrow 171). Cell therapies for vital organs would not be possible without stem cells with this capability. Mesenchymal stem cells also have the ability to become endothelial cells. Endothelial cells are flat cells that form the inside lining of blood vessels. These cells help form new blood vessels through a process called angiogenesis. Angiogenesis reestablishes oxygenated blood flow to the damaged heart tissue. While producing new tissue cells is a benefit to treating damaged heart tissue other important traits make mesenchymal stem cells a good match for heart treatments.
Recently, clinical trials have focused on...