Researchers in Japan were given the green light to use their experimental treatment in clinical trials. The study involves the treatment of damaged hearts due to heart disease and the treatment that is going to be used is a reprogrammed stem cell.
This is just the second of its kind and makes use of induced pluripotent stem cells. The cells are formed by inducing the cells from body tissue to revert to a previous, embryonic-like state. This is so that the cells are primed to turn into whatever cell that is needed by the researchers for the study.
May 16th marks the day when the scientists are given the go signal to use really thin sheets of tissue that are derived from induced pluripotent stem cells and then slowly and carefully grafting them into patients with damaged hearts.
The study was led by Yoshiki Sawa, a Cardiac surgeon at Osaka University. He said that the sheets of tissue can help activate the regeneration process of the heart muscles. This, according to Sawa, could be a potent strategy that will help people who have damaged hearts due to heart disease become healed in a short amount of time.
As a first wave of treatments, the wafer-thin tissue sheets will be given to three human subjects over the course of next year. The team will then ask for another permission- this time, conducting an experiment with 10 subjects. If the results of the study look to be promising and fruitful, there will be no doubt that the treatments would then be sold to the general public.
Sawa and his team of researchers used induced pluripotent stem cells to manifest a wafer-thin sheet of tissue that consists of over 100 million heart muscle cells. From their initial studies using pigs, Sawa’s team was able to graft the sheets of cells- each having a thickness of only 0.1 mm and as long as 4 cm.
The project head said that the sheets were grafted to improve the heart’s function and return it to its normal state. Sawa did state that the cells do not normally integrate into the heart cells and tissues. But rather, they release important growth factors that may help jumpstart the regeneration process, especially in the damaged areas.
Sawa’s sentiments were echoed by other scientists, stating that the advantage of these sheets of tissue is that it has its own cellular matrix and they can also sustain their structure without the need of an external support mechanism from foreign materials or those that are derived from engineered tissues.
Even though the results of Sawa’s study is mostly positive, the bar for approving experimental therapies like this is set pretty low. You see, researchers must not only take into account the efficacy of the treatment; they also have to look at its safety as well.
Some skeptics further added that if Sawa’s current treatments do work, they have to be administered to a larger sample size to ensure stability and consistency across the board.