Researchers identify protein that direct stem cells

Oxford University researchers have identified a protein that can direct stem cells to become either new heart muscle or blood vessels.

Stem cell research may indicate how heart tissue could be repaired after heart attacks.

The research, which was carried out in zebrafish, offers insight into how it might be possible one day to generate tissues to repair the human heart after damage inflicted by a heart attack.

The scientists, based at the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit at the University of Oxford, identified a protein called 'fibroblast growth factor' (Fgf) as the controlling factor which determines whether developing heart cells become heart muscle or blood vessels.

They showed that manipulating levels of Fgf in zebrafish embryos could determine how much of each cell type was made.

The research, funded by the Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation, is published in the journal Development.

Dr Filipa Simoes, one of the first authors of the study, said: 'Our study shows how having the correct concentrations of Fgf in the developing zebrafish heart ensures that the different cell types form properly.