Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q) have made a breakthrough which could lead to personalized blood and heart tissue being created in a laboratory.
Working with colleagues from the Ansary Stem Cell Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, researchers in the laboratory of Dr. Arash Rafii Tabrizi at WCM-Q in Doha postulated that endothelial cells – the cells that line the walls of blood vessels – are responsible for organ development.
To test the theory, Dr. Tabrizi and his team isolated endothelial cells and forced the expression of transcription factors using DNA vectors.
After 20 days, the cells began to multiply and were essentially transformed into hematopoietic stem cells, which are the basis for all types of blood cells, including red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells, which are a vital part of the immune system.
Importantly the power of the endothelium to support cellular differentiation for blood cells is also successful with cardiac cell regeneration. By combining endothelial cells with cardiomyocytes – the heart’s muscle cells – the researchers were able to create muscle cells in a petri dish that beat together in a regular rhythm, similar to endogenous cardiomyocytes.
However, the research team believes that the endothelial cells are creating a ‘bridge’ between the cardiac cells, ensuring they act as one and as they would in the human heart. If true, the technique could one day be used to help heal cardiac infractions or support people with a heartbeat too weak due to degenerative heart disease such as in ischemic disease or diabetes.
At the moment, that is the million-dollar question, so the next step is to create a model of heart ischemia in mice and see if the properties and functionality that the team hopes will be seen are seen.
The research was only possible thanks to support from Qatar National Research Fund with grants NPRP8-1898-3-392 and NPRP 6-1131-3-268.
Dr. Khaled Machaca, Associate Dean of Research at WCM-Q, said Dr. Tabrizi’s research provides an excellent example of how QNRF support of basic research translates into tangible results that are likely to improve the health of the Qatari population in the long term.
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