SINGAPORE - The National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) has successfully created beating heart cells from skin.
NHCS used a virus-free method to create human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells.
Skin cells were taken from heart patients to generate these hiPS cells, which can then be transformed into beating adult heart muscle cells outside the body.
These beating cells outside the body are similar both genetically and physically to the properties of the heart cells from which they came from.
The NHCS Research & Development Unit is one of only a handful of basic research labs worldwide capable of this technique.
There are approximately 5,000 cases of heart failure a year. NHCS treats about 1,000 such cases yearly.
A proportion of these cases are advanced in nature, and the only viable treatment is a heart transplant.
With the heart muscle cells made with hiPS cells, they can be used to replace the damaged heart muscle of heart failure patients to relieve the symptoms such as breathlessness and possibly delay the need for a heart transplant.
A key advantage of NHCS’s own virus-free hiPS cell method is that immunosuppressants to prevent rejection will not be needed as the source cells originate from the patient.
The non-viral technique removes the risk of infection after a heart surgery, which may limit the clinical application of such stem cell therapy.
Furthermore, hiPS cells, which are known to be as powerful as embryonic stem cells, can avoid ethical issues associated with the production of the latter.
They also provide a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues.
Moving forward, the research team will look at the therapeutic potential of such cells, including their use for cell transplant.
With the possibility of using these cells as a genetic-equivalent model outside the body, the team can also study in great detail cardiac genetic disease and their response of specific drugs or also test response of new drugs on specific diseases of the heart.