It’s no secret that a heart attack takes a major toll on a patient’s overall health and cardiovascular stability, but now stem cell researchers have found an innovative way to combat the damaged tissue that forms after a heart attack. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University, more commonly known as Penn State, recently completed research by building upon previous studies relating to Wnt signaling pathways. The results have major implications into the future of heart health.
A Background into Wnt Signaling Pathways
Wnt signaling pathways are groups of protein conduits that help signals enter cells through cell-surface sensors. In previous research, it was discovered that specific chemicals placed into Wnt pathways transform cardiac stem cells into myocardial cells. Since myocardium cells compose the middle layer of the heart muscle, they can potentially be changed into the epicardium, or outer layer, cells.
As the leader of the study at Penn State, Xiaojun Lance Lian, explained, “In 2012, we discovered that if we treated human stem cells with chemicals that sequentially activate and inhibit Wnt signaling pathway, they become myocardium muscle cells. We needed to provide the cardiac progenitor cells with additional information in order for them to generate into epicardium cells, but prior to this study, we didn’t know what that information was.”
The Significance of Epicardium Cells
As Lian continued to explain, “Now, we know that if we activate the cells’ Wnt signaling pathway again, we can re-drive these cardiac progenitor cells to become epicardium cells, instead of myocardium cells.” Though this sounds like confusing scientific lingo, the meaning behind it is incredibly significant to patients who have had heart attacks. And since one heart attack occurs in America every 43 seconds, there has never been a more pressing need for improved processes and techniques to help heart attack patients recover their physical health.
When a heart attack occurs, it means that blood vessels have become blocked, and nutrients and oxygen can’t reach the heart muscle. This causes muscle cells to die and leave permanent damage in their wake. If Lian’s team can use their newfound knowledge to regenerate the cells that cover the external surface of the heart, the process would revolutionize heart attack recovery. In Lian’s words, “these epicardium cells could be transplanted to the patient and potentially repair the damaged region.”
In the future, Lian’s team will push for more advanced research regarding endocardium cell regeneration. If their results are as expected, they will be able to use the same heart progenitor stem cells to create all layers of the heart. This incredible progress would give heart attack patients a better chance of recovery than ever before.