The adult human heart as a source for stem cells: repair strategies with embryonic-like progenitor cells

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Adequate cell-based repair of adult myocardium remains an elusive goal because most cells that are used cannot generate mature myocardium sufficient to promote large functional improvements. Embryonic stem cells can generate both mature cardiocytes and vasculature, but their use is hampered by associated teratoma formation and the need for an allogeneic source. The detection of sca-1+, c-kit+, or isl-1+ cardiac precursors and the creation of cardiospheres from adult heart tissues suggest that a persistent population of immature progenitor cells is present in the mature myocardium. These cell populations probably represent stages along a continuum of cardiac stem cell development and differentiation. We report isolation from ventricle of uncommitted cardiac progenitor cells, which appear to resemble the more immature, common pool of embryonic lateral plate mesoderm progenitors that yield both myocardial and endocardial cells during normal cardiac development. Under controlled in vitro conditions and in vivo, these cells can differentiate into endothelial, smooth muscle, and cardiomyocyte lineages and can be isolated and expanded to clinically relevant numbers from adult rat myocardial tissue. In this article, we discuss the potential for autologous repair or even cardiac regeneration with cells that follow a developmental pathway similar to embryonic cardiac precursors but without the inherent limitations associated with undifferentiated embryonic stem cells.

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