Fighting heart disease with regenerative medicine

Operating room in hospital
Taking advantage of induced pluripotent stem cells, researchers are working on ways to repair the damage caused by heart attacks. 

The constant advancements of science have vastly improved the quality of life of billions of people around the world. Since the beginning of the 20th century, average life expectancy has more than doubled. In some countries, it now exceeds 80 years. However, there are still threats to our health that we have been unable to eliminate and that continue to claim the lives of millions worldwide. That is the case of heart disease.

Fortunately, through the power of regenerative medicine, scientists have made strides towards potential treatments that could forever reduce the burden that heart disease imposes on our societies. Keep reading to learn how you can put yourself in a position to take advantage of this medical revolution by banking your cells today.

What is heart disease?

The term heart disease refers to a variety of conditions that impact the heart. The most common of these conditions is coronary artery disease (CAD). As a whole, cardiovascular diseases are the second leading cause of death in Canada (behind cancer). Worldwide they are the number 1 killer with nearly 18 million deaths each year. This amounts to 31% of all deaths.

What causes heart disease?

Coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries. This causes them to become obstructed, thus restricting blood flow to the heart. When this happens, the deprivation of oxygen produces an infarction or heart attack. This results in permanent damage to the heart muscle and can be fatal.

There are both genetic and environmental factors that can increase the risk of heart disease, including the following: 

  • Family history. According to Harvard Medical School, your family history can be as strong of a marker for heart disease as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Diabetes. The risk of death from heart disease increases twofold for adults with type 2 diabetes as compared to people who do not suffer from this disease.
  • Smoking. As Johns Hopkins University reveals, smoking causes an instant and long-term rise in blood pressure. It also increases the risk of developing blood clots, and doubles the risk of stroke.
  • Stress. Stress can cause high blood pressure and trigger inflammation. This increases the risk of heart disease, as Johns Hopkins University cardiologist Michael, M.D., M.P.H. explains.
  • Poor diet and obesity. Excessive consumption of foods containing saturated fats, salt, sugar, and cholesterol contribute to the development of heart disease. Obesity tends to worsen other risk factors as well, as reported by the Mayo Clinic.

Can regenerative medicine cure heart disease?

Scientists are now on the path towards developing procedures that could eventually improve heart function in patients who have suffered heart attacks using their own cells. This has the potential to save millions of lives.

Scientists can now regenerate heart cells using iPSCs.
The human heart is incredibly complex. However, scientists are now on the path towards being able to regenerate it post-infarction.

Researchers now have the ability to induce fully differentiated cells, such as those in your skin and hair follicles, to become pluripotent. What this means is that they can take an adult cell and reprogram it to behave like an embryonic stem cell. Once this happens, it can become any cell type in the body.

Using this technology, scientists have created human heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, and injected them into infarcted rat hearts. What they found is that these cells prevented myocardial fibrosis –a process that can cause arrhythmias and heart failure– and attenuated functional deterioration of the hearts’ left ventricles. Their results were published in Stem Cell Research and Therapy in early 2020.

Scientists from Japan took this concept a step forward, moving on from rats to primates. They garnered adult cynomolgus monkey cells, turned them into iPSCs (Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells), and differentiated them into heart cells. These were then injected into specimens that had suffered infarctions. These cells were able to improve heart function by increasing heart contractility. Researchers found signs of remuscularization as well. This is relevant because monkeys are more closely related to humans than rats. Having the ability to regenerate an infarcted primate heart is a very promising step towards eventually being able to do it with a human heart.

So what does the future look like? The promise of regenerative medicine applied to cardiovascular disease is the ability to take a patient’s own cells, differentiate them into heart cells and transplant them into that patient’s heart, restoring function, and repairing the damage caused by a heart attack.

How you can take action today

It is just a matter of time before these experiments give way to actual treatments available for all. If in the future you were to require treatment for heart disease or any other condition like Parkinson’s or macular degeneration, the first thing that doctors will need is a cell sample. You could have it extracted then, the problem is that as we age our cells lose their therapeutic potential so right when you need them the most they will be at their worst.

There is one easy way to circumvent this problem: banking your cells as soon as possible. If you have them extracted and cryopreserved today, you will shield them from the damage that comes with aging. Get in touch with us to bank your cells and you will secure access to all the future advances in regenerative medicine.