One of the more recent and highly significant medical achievements, is the discovery of a genetic switch that is capable of causing stem cells to change into heart cells. This is a significant breakthrough for people with damaged hearts seeking treatment.
Research experts from A*STAR, an institute dedicated to medical biology, together with their counterparts from India, have over the years been looking into the genetic and molecular processes that distinguish human embryonic stem-cells and the other kinds of body cells, in particular heart muscle cells (cardio-myocytes).
According to research by A*STAR Institute, huge efforts are already underway to come up with ways of differentiating these stems cells into beating-functional heart muscle cells that could be used for various cell-based therapies designed to remedy structural abnormalities. The objective is to find effective treatments using stem cells for heart disease.
During the study, researchers applied a method known as transcriptome profiling. This unique approach examines the activity of various genes in a cell in order to determine which ones are more active whenever human embryonic stem-cells differentiate into cardiac cells.
Two genes in particular, the NR2F2 and the EZH2, displayed increased expressions throughout the differentiation process. It is also important to note that the protein components that these genes code for, have the ability to suppress another gene known as OCT-4, which is tasked with maintaining stem-cells in an undifferentiated state.
The NR2F2 is responsible for recruiting the E-ZH2, thereby potentially suppressing its expression, which in turn propels the cells in the direction of differentiation. The researchers go on to add that with the down-regulation capabilities of this gene, the cells begin to differentiate into cardio-myocytes.
In the past, medical researchers have not been able to link the NR2F2 protein to cardiac differentiation. However, various mutations in the NR2F2-gene have been shown to bring about the development of a different kind of congenital heart defect. Even though the gene’s mutations were highly critical to the differentiation process, they were not the only mechanism involved.
If biologists could understand just how a stem cell turns into a cardio-myocyte, the possibility of creating such cells in a more controlled manner and manageable system could increase.
This statement implied that the process could perhaps be used for reprogramming adult stem cells utilizing a process whereby normal cells were taken from a patient and then reprogrammed into their stem cell state, which would later on be differentiated into whatever kind of cell type needed for medical treatment.
If one could convert these cells into cardio-myocytes, and place them back into the affected individual, there could be several advantages, one being no cases of immune rejection since the cells are obtained from the patient. More research continues to be done with stem cells for heart disease.