Irish-led team develops cells that may help regenerate cardiac cells

19 Sep 2012

An Irish-led team of stem cell scientists have developed cells which may allow the regeneration of cardiac cells and help repair heart muscle tissue that has been damaged by a heart attack.

A team of scientists at the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) in conjunction with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) developed the breakthrough, which employs a widely used nanomaterial.

Once damaged by heart attack, cardiac muscle has little capacity for self-repair and at present there are no clinical treatments available to repair damaged cardiac muscle tissue. Use of a patient’s own heart cells is not a viable clinical option, either. 

REMEDI researchers Dr Valerie Barron and Dr Mary Murphy have brought together a team of Irish materials scientists, physicists and biologists from REMEDI at NUI Galway and TCD to tackle the problem.

The researchers recognised that carbon nanotubes, a widely used nanoparticle, is reactive to electrical stimulation. They then used these nanomaterials to create cells with the characteristics of cardiac progenitors, a special type of cell found in the heart, from adult stem cells.

“The electrical properties of the nanomaterial triggered a response in the mesenchymal (adult) stem cells, which we sourced from human bone marrow. In effect, they became electrified, which made them morph into more cardiac-like cells,” Barron explained.

“This is a totally new approach and provides a ready-source of tailored cells, which have the potential to be used as a new clinical therapy. Excitingly, this symbiotic strategy lays the foundation stone for other electroactive tissue repair applications, and can be readily exploited for other clinically challenging areas, such as in the brain and the spinal cord.”

This work has recently been published in the scientific journals Biomaterials and Macromolecular Bioscience, and has been carried out in collaboration with Prof Werner Blau, investigator in CRANN and the School of Physics at TCD.

“It is great to see two decades of our pioneering nanocarbon research here at TCD come to fruition in a way that addresses a major global health problem,” Blau said.

“Hopefully, many people around the world will ultimately benefit from it. Some of our carbon nanotube research has been patented by TCD and is being licensed to international companies in material science, electronics and health care.”

Cardiac image via Shutterstock is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic