Fetal stem cells from placenta may help maternal heart recover from injury

November 14, 2011

Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine have discovered the therapeutic benefit of fetal stem cells in helping the maternal heart recover after heart attack or other injury. The research, which marks a significant advancement in cardiac regenerative medicine, was presented today at the American Heart Association's (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2011 in Orlando, Florida, and is also published in the current issue of Circulation Research, a journal of the AHA.

In the first study of its kind, the Mount Sinai researchers found that fetal stem cells from the placenta migrate to the heart of the mother and home to the site where an injury, such as a heart attack, occurred. The stem cells then reprogram themselves as beating heart stem cells to aid in its repair. The scientists also mimicked this reprogramming in vitro, showing that the fetal cells became spontaneously beating in cell culture, which has broad-reaching implications in treating heart disease.

Previous studies have documented a phenomenon in which half of women with a type of heart failure called peripartum cardiomyopathy saw their condition spontaneously recover in the months following pregnancy. Based on this evidence, the Mount Sinai team wanted to determine whether fetal stem cells played a role in maternal recovery.

They evaluated the hearts of pregnant that underwent mid-gestation heart injury and survived. Using in the fetuses to tag the fetal stem cells derived from the placenta, they found that the green fluorescent stem cells homed to the injured hearts of their mothers, grafted onto the damaged tissue, and differentiated into , , or another type of heart cell called cardiomyocytes.

"Our research shows that fetal stem cells play an important role in inducing maternal cardiac repair," said Hina Chaudhry, MD, Director of Cardiovascular at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and principal investigator of the study. "This is an exciting development that has far-reaching therapeutic potential."

With a broader understanding of the role of fetal stem cells, Dr. Chaudhry and her team then isolated the fetal cells that had grafted onto the maternal hearts and recreated the environment in vitro. They found that the cells spontaneously differentiated into cardiac cells in cell culture as well.

Until now, researchers have had limited success in discovering the regenerative potential of stem cells in heart disease. The use of bone marrow cells in cardiac regeneration has largely failed as well. Dr. Chaudhry's research team has found that fetal cells may potentially be a viable therapeutic agent, both through in vivo and in vitro studies.

"Identifying an ideal stem cell type for cardiac regeneration has been a major challenge in heart disease research," said Dr. Chaudhry. "Embryonic stem cells have shown potential but come with ethical concerns. We've shown that fetal stem cells derived from the placenta, which is discarded postpartum, have significant promise. This marks a significant step forward in cardiac regenerative medicine."

These findings have implications beyond cardiovascular disease. The fetal traveled only to the injury site on the damaged heart, and not to other undamaged organs, meaning research on the benefit of these cells on organs damaged by other diseases would be beneficial. Importantly, a significant percentage of the isolated from maternal hearts express a protein called Cdx2, which indicates that the cells may not have developed mature immune recognition molecules and therefore are unlikely to cause a negative immune response, which occurs in organ transplant.

"Our study shows the promise of these cells beyond just cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Chaudhry. "Additionally, this breakthrough greatly underscores the importance of translational research. As a clinician who also has a basic science laboratory, I am in the unique position to assess the needs of my patients, evaluate how they respond to treatment and recover from illness, and bring that anecdotal knowledge to the experiments in my lab."

Explore further: Genetically engineered cardiac stem cells repaired damaged mouse heart

Related Stories

Genetically engineered cardiac stem cells repaired damaged mouse heart

July 19, 2011
Genetically engineered human cardiac stem cells helped repair damaged heart tissue and improved function after a heart attack, in a new animal study.

Helping the heart help itself: Research points to new use for stem cells

April 8, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Human trials of stem cell therapy for post-heart attack patients have raised as many questions as they have answered -- because while the patients have tended to show some improvement in heart function, the ...

Hormone reduces risk of heart failure from chemotherapy

August 4, 2011
Recent studies have shown that the heart contains cardiac stem cells that can contribute to regeneration and healing during disease and aging. However, little is known about the molecules and pathways that regulate these ...

Recommended for you

Five vascular diseases linked to one common genetic variant

July 27, 2017
Genome-wide association studies have implicated a common genetic variant in chromosome 6p24 in coronary artery disease, as well as four other vascular diseases: migraine headache, cervical artery dissection, fibromuscular ...

Could aggressive blood pressure treatments lead to kidney damage?

July 18, 2017
Aggressive combination treatments for high blood pressure that are intended to protect the kidneys may actually be damaging the organs, new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests.

Quantifying effectiveness of treatment for irregular heartbeat

July 17, 2017
In a small proof-of-concept study, researchers at Johns Hopkins report a complex mathematical method to measure electrical communications within the heart can successfully predict the effectiveness of catheter ablation, the ...

Concerns over side effects of statins stopping stroke survivors taking medication

July 17, 2017
Negative media coverage of the side effects associated with taking statins, and patients' own experiences of taking the drugs, are among the reasons cited by stroke survivors and their carers for stopping taking potentially ...

Study discovers anticoagulant drugs are being prescribed against safety advice

July 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham has shown that GPs are prescribing anticoagulants to patients with an irregular heartbeat against official safety advice.

Protein may protect against heart attack

July 14, 2017
DDK3 could be used as a new therapy to stop the build-up of fatty material inside the arteries

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.