Heart Attack Treatment Might be in Your Face
CINCINNATI—Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC)
have received $2.4 million in federal funding to pursue research on
a novel cell therapy that would repair heart damage using modified
cells taken from the patient’s own facial muscle.
"One of the major advantages of this technique in the clinical
setting will be that we take cells from the patient themselves to
lessen the risk of rejection and tumor formation. These are your
own natural cells,” says principal investigator Yi-Gang Wang,
MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory
Medicine and director of Regenerative Medicine Research at
UC’s College of Medicine.
Our cell therapy techniques, Wang says, have already been
successful in small animal models, with the next step being large
"Right now there is very limited heart muscle regeneration after a
person has a heart attack,” he says, adding that the only
treatments that do exist are drug therapies, heart bypasses or
However, current treatments do not replace cells lost during heart
attack, and come with additional dangers: reduced oxygen
consumption from drug therapy, recovery and complications from
bypass surgeries and the availability of a donor heart, which
includes the risk of rejection.
"The most promising route from treatment of heart failure due to
cardiovascular disease is to use cells that can promote the
regrowth of healthy tissue,” he says.
Over the last decade, Wang’s research team has determined
that facial muscle cells (masseter cells) develop in close
proximity to heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes) and have similar
gene expression. By removing certain skeletal muscle genes and
enhancing cardiac genes, masseter cells can be
‘reprogrammed’ into cells that have an identical
genetic make-up to cardiomyocytes, including the ability to
spontaneously beat in order to pump blood.
These masseter cells turned cardiomyocytes would then be
administered via injection or a patch, Wang says.
"Our small animal studies already show it is feasible,” says
Wang, "and our techniques are the most efficient at generating
The R01 grant (HL136025) comes from the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) Research Project Grant.
Wang cites no conflicts of interest pertaining to the study.
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