New discovery of adult stem cells holds fresh possibilities for heart regeneration

Sydney researchers have discovered a new population of adult stem cells in the heart, which could augment the development of new regeneration and repair therapies for people who have suffered heart attack or heart failure, the leading cause of death in Australia.

The research, led by Professor Richard Harvey and his team at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (VCCRI) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, has been published in the international journal Cell Stem Cell.

Professor Harvey, who is head of the developmental and stem cell biology division at VCCRI and Sir Peter Finley Professor at UNSW, says the findings, which used the mouse as a model system, are hugely exciting.

''The first part of our study was actually the discovery and characterisation of a new population of multi-potent, adult stem cells that live in the heart - that is, stem cells that are extremely powerful in dividing, and responding to their native environment to form whatever tissue is needed for repair.

''The fact that this new group of cells are multi-potent, and highly specific to the heart, gives us great hope that when we translate these cells into the human setting, they will work well at regenerating and repairing a broken heart - or a heart that has suffered injury through heart attack or heart failure,'' added Professor Harvey.

Heart disease claimed the lives of over 22,500 Australians in 2009, killing one Australian every 23 minutes.
 
The findings come following recent reports in scientific literature and news media that stem cells harvested from human hearts during surgery show promise for reversing heart attack damage.