Fetal stem cells from placenta could be heart treatment breakthrough

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Fetal stem cells from the placenta may help repair heart damage in new moms, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have found in what is being billed as a first-of-its-kind study.

The Mount Sinai finding, announced at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2011 in Orlando, FL, could have major implications in treating heart disease and other ailments down the road for a number of reasons. Scientists believe the type of cell may not just be effective; it may also lack mature immune recognition molecules and therefore not generate a rejection response. Also, the placenta stem cells could serve as a viable alternative to the use of stem cells and bone marrow to treat heart disease, which has produced mixed success up to this point.

And in these hyper-political times, they also avoid ethical implications caused by the use of embryonic stem cells.

"We've shown that fetal stem cells derived from the placenta, which is discarded post-partum, have significant promise," said Dr. Hina Chaudhry, the study's lead investigator and director of cardiovascular regenerative medicine at the school. "This marks a significant step forward in cardiac regenerative medicine."

Chaudhry and her colleagues started with female mice who underwent midgestation heart injury and survived. They determined, using green fluorescent protein in the fetuses to tag placenta-originated fetal stem cells, that those cells from the placenta migrate to the mother's heart, targeting the site of a heart attack or other injury. Subsequently, those cells grafted onto the damaged tissue and got to work repairing the heart, becoming muscle, blood vessel or other types of heart cells. Later, the team isolated the fetal cells that had grafted on to the moms' hearts and duplicated the scenario in the lab, watching the same process unfold in vitro.

The National Institutes of Health and American Heart Association helped fund the study. Details are also published in the AHA journal Circulation Research.

- here's the Mount Sinai release
- read the full paper here

- Check out more stem cell news

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