Protein reprogramming method might yield rich source of heart cells for cardiac repair

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A study has reported an efficient protein-based method for converting fibroblasts into cardiac progenitor cells (CPCs) directly. The study was published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine (SCTM).

The researchers—from Guangdong General Hospital, Guangzhou Medical University (GMU), Guangdong, China and Wayne State University (WSU), Detroit, USA—used a simple, non-viral based protein delivery system consisting of four modified transcription factors (GHMT) and three growth factors. When fibroblasts from human skin were reprogrammed to become CPCs, the yield of CPCs was 8%. When these cells were then transplanted into rat hearts after a heart attack, cardiac function showed improvement.

Xi-Yong Yu of GMU’s Guangdong Cardiovascular Institute, is co-lead investigator of the study. “The resulting CPCs were similar to cardiac progenitors in appearance, colony formation, activation of cardiac marker genes and cardiac lineage differentiation potential,” he says. “We believe this protein reprogramming strategy lays the foundation for future refinements and might provide a source of CPCs for regenerative approaches.”

Co-lead investigator Jianjun Wang of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department in WSU’s Medical School cautions, “It will be critical to determine whether key physiological properties are faithfully reproduced after reprogramming. Further study is also needed to investigate the characteristics of in vivo differentiated cardiomyocytes and vasculatures from protein-induced CPCs in their native environment, which might promote survival, maturation and coupling with neighbouring cells.”

Yigang Wang, director of regenerative medicine at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, is another noted researcher focused on the technology involved in producing CPCs with high efficiency. He commented on the Yu-Wang team’s findings, saying that he “hopes that it will lead to a new source of abundant seed cells for cardiac tissue engineering in a clinical setting.”

“While additional research is needed to fully understand the properties of these cells, the results suggest a potentially safer method to generate cardiac progenitor cells for use as a regenerative therapy after a heart attack,” said Anthony Atala, editor-in-chief of Stem Cells Translational Medicine, and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.