Gene directs stem cells to build heart in mice

July 3rd, 2008 - 12:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 3 (IANS) Embryonic stem cells from mice have been successfully put to work building their hearts - a development that takes researchers a step forward in stem cell-based generating therapies for heart disease. Washington University scientists have found that the gene Mesp1 is what persuades mouse embryonic stem cells to become heart parts and gets them moving to the area where the heart forms.

Researchers are now testing if stem cells exposed to Mesp1 can help fix damaged mouse hearts.

“This isn’t the only gene we’ll need to get stem cells to repair damaged hearts, but it’s a key piece of the puzzle,” said co-author Kenneth Murphy, who led the study.

“This gene is like the first domino in a chain: the Mesp1 protein activates genes that make other important proteins, and these activate other genes and so on. The end result of these falling genetic dominoes is your whole cardiovascular system.”

Embryonic stem cells have created considerable excitement because of their potential to become almost any specialised cell type.

Scientists hope to use stem cells to create new tissue for treatment of a wide range of diseases and injuries. But first they have to learn how to coax them into becoming specialised tissue types such as nerve cells, skin cells or heart cells.

“That’s the challenge to realising the potential of stem cells,” said Murphy. “We know some things about how the early embryo develops, but we need to learn a great deal more about how factors like Mesp1 control the roles that stem cells assume.”

Mesp1 was identified several years ago by other researchers, who found that it was essential for the development of the cardiovascular system; but they failed to ascertain how the gene works in embryonic stem cells.

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