First stage of research to regenerate heart muscle using stem cells shows results: Duke-NUS study

   The ongoing study, which started in 2013, also involved researchers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.
The ongoing study, which started in 2013, also involved researchers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - For people who have damaged heart muscle, recovery is usually very limited.

Researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School and their foreign counterparts are working on giving such patients more treatment options.

And the first stage of their research on regenerating heart muscle using stem cells has shown encouraging results, according to a study published in the journal Cell Reports on March 19.

Duke-NUS Medical School researchers first combined a protein associated with the heart muscle, called laminin-221, with human embryonic stem cells.

This combination produced cells, when injected into damaged hearts from mice, developed into heart muscle, said the lead researcher, Duke-NUS Professor Karl Tryggvason.

The heart muscle was able to increase the heart function from 60 per cent to 80 per cent, and this lasted for the study duration of 12 weeks, added Dr Lynn Yap, a senior research fellow at the school's Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Programme.

Scientists have been studying techniques to change different kinds of stem cells into heart cells, which could then help rebuild heart muscle fibres, but their approaches have not yet met regulations set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency for regenerative therapies.

The ongoing study, which started in 2013, also involved researchers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Researchers will start testing the heart muscle regeneration technique on pigs within the next two months, said Prof Tryggvason, who is a Tanoto Foundation Professor in Diabetes Research.

Pig hearts are more similar to human hearts, unlike those taken from mice which beat at a much faster pace.

Prof Tryggvason estimates that if the results continue to be successful, the method could be tested on humans in five to 10 years' time.

"When it comes to the heart, we are very hopeful that our results can be lasting," he said.