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Keywords:

  • embryonic stem cells;
  • regeneration;
  • therapy;
  • tumor;
  • teratoma;
  • heart

Abstract: The mitotic capacity of heart muscle is too limited to fully substitute for cells lost following myocardial infarction. Emerging stem cell-based strategies have been proposed to overcome the self-renewal shortfall of native cardiomyocytes, yet there is limited evidence for their capability to achieve safe de novo cardiogenesis and repair. We present our recent experience in treating long-term, infarcted hearts with embryonic stem cells, a prototype source for allogenic cell therapy. The cardiogenic potential of the engrafted murine embryonic stem cell colony was pre-tested by in vitro differentiation, with derived cells positive for nuclear cardiac transcription factors, sarcomeric proteins and functional excitation-contraction coupling. Eight weeks after infarct, rats were randomized into sham- or embryonic stem cell-treated groups. Acellular sham controls or embryonic stem cells, engineered to express enhanced cyan fluorescent protein (ECFP) under control of the cardiac actin promoter, were injected through a 28-gauge needle at three sites into the peri-infarct zone for serial assessment of functional and structural impact. In contrast to results with sham-treated animals, stem cell therapy yielded, over the 5-month follow-up period, new ECFP-positive cardiomyocytes that integrated with the infarcted myocardium. The stem cell-treated group showed a stable contractile performance benefit with normalization of myocardial architecture post infarction. Transition of embryonic stem cells into cardiomyocytes required host signaling to support cardiac-specific differentiation and could result in tumorigenesis if the stem cell dose exceeded the heart's cardioinductive capacity. Supported by the host environment, proper dosing and administration of embryonic stem cells is thus here shown useful in the chronic management of cardiac injury promoting sustained repair.