A provocative new study calls into question the rationale for using stem cells to repair the heart — a much-hyped experimental therapy that grew out of insights from a groundbreaking Boston researcher’s laboratory.
The paper published Wednesday shows that these stem cells normally generate new cardiac muscle cells at a glacial rate in mice, and the authors said this suggests the stem cells alone would be unlikely to contribute significantly to regeneration of muscle in heart-disease patients.
“We just asked: Do the cells in the heart do this themselves? They’re in the heart, can they do it?” said Jeffery Molkentin, a cardiovascular molecular biologist at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute, who led the work published in the journal Nature. “The answer there is basically no.”
He said the findings raise questions about whether stem cells should be used to “fix the heart, and how might they be fixing the heart?”
The research is the latest salvo in the heart stem cell wars — and will further roil a deeply divided field that owes many of its foundational ideas to Dr. Piero Anversa, a Brigham and Women’s Hospital researcher whose laboratory is in the midst of a Harvard Medical School investigation that has found problems with data integrity in two of its papers. Anversa was already controversial because his results were often in conflict with those of other researchers in the field.
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