Skin Cells Could Soon Be Used to Repair Hearts

University of Houston biomedical scientist Robert Schwartz has recently presented his latest research, which promises to make treating heart conditions easier and more efficient than ever before. He argues that the future is in stem cell research, and showcases a method in which skin cells are taken from a patient’s skin, reverted to their initial, pluripotent state, and then made to differentiate into early-stage heart cells. These are then implanted into the heart of the same patients, where they take to growing and fixing the initial issue. The real advantage is that this can be done without any risk of the immune system stepping in to stop the reaction.

This carries the considerable advantage that patients will no longer need to undergo immunosuppressive therapies, which stifles the action of the body’s defense mechanisms. Heart implants are therefore protected, but that particular individual becomes extremely vulnerable to various infections, and can easily die because of them. Matters are made even worse by the fact that some of the most dangerous strains of bacteria in the world, such as the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), find it appropriate to live and flourish in hospitals, where they can influence much more people than otherwise possible. A healthy immune system usually prevents MRSA infections.

“Professor Schwartz’s work will save lives, and his decision to pursue this pioneering research at UH is a big leap forward on our way to Tier-One status. Together with the many other outstanding scientists we’ve assembled here, Schwartz will help make this university a major player in medical research,” says of the new work the dean of the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, John Bear. Among the many diseases which the new work could address, the expert includes Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy, which are all devastating in themselves. Schwartz is the Cullen Distinguished Professor of Biology and Biochemistry and head of the new UH Center for Gene Regulation and Molecular Therapeutics.

“We’re trying to advance science in ways folks never even dreamed about. The idea of having your own bag of stem cells that you can carry through life and use for tissue regeneration is at the very cutting edge of science,” the expert says. “Dr. Schwartz will expand [the UH] expertise in promising new areas of scientific discovery to alleviate human disease. By recruiting premier scientists like Schwartz, UH is fast becoming a major player in the regional biomedical research community,” adds the assistant vice president of University Health Initiatives at UH, Kathryn Peek.