Bone Marrow to Repair the Heart

Kimby N. Barton, MSc
Associate Editor,
Geriatrics & Aging.

If you have ever known anyone with any degree of heart trouble you may be aware of the options available for the treatment of heart disease. We have medications that treat hypertension, medications that lower lipids and medications to prevent clotting. We can use diet and exercise to keep our arteries clear and our heart muscle healthy. But can we repair a heart once cells have been lost? Coronary heart disease accounts for 50% of all cardiovascular deaths and nearly 40% of the incidence of heart failure. Heart attacks lead to the death of vital cardiac myocytes and impair cardiac performance. The cells that survive an MI are unable to reconstitute the tissue that is lost, and eventually the heart begins to deteriorate. The victims of heart attack and their caregivers are well aware of the slow progression from heart attack to heart failure, and the lack of available therapies to stop this progression.

What if there was a way to re-vitalize the damaged cell population or to replace the cells that are lost? Unfortunately, in order to form a functional cardiac unit, the replacement cells must be able to survive, mature, electromechanically couple with pre-existing heart cells and have a beneficial effect on the function of the damaged heart.

Injury to a target organ is sensed by distant stem cells; these cells migrate to the site of damage and then differentiate, promoting structural and functional repair.