Youthful stem cells may regenerate older heart tissue
Researchers are finding that stem cells from younger donors could help older patients who are recovering from heart attacks or narrowing of the heart’s blood vessels, a condition called aortic stenosis.
Marc Penn, MD, PhD
Marc Penn, MD, PhD, of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, investigates how hearts damaged by heart attacks attract adult stem cells by sending out “homing” signals. Stem cells found in the bone marrow respond to this signal and migrate to the damaged area to become new heart tissue cells.
Dr. Penn’s research has expanded to also focus on how aging might affect the homing process and the stem cells’ ability to specialize, or differentiate, properly and efficiently.
“It would appear that stem cells may tire out over time. There’s evidence that aging does play a role in stem cell function. Now we’re trying to determine if it’s the heart not sending out the message to stem cells, or the stem cells not responding to the signal,” Dr. Penn says. “The heart needs to grow new vessels to nourish the new cells. But if the stem cells aren’t getting to the heart, the heart dilates and the patient develops heart failure in response to aortic stenosis.
“We hope that by deciphering the signaling process, we will be able to develop new therapies for patients with aortic stenosis and weak hearts.”
To coordinate the range of stem cell and regenerative medicine research projects focused on cardiovascular diseases, Dr. Penn organized the Center for Cardiovascular Cell Therapy. The center currently has six clinical trials involving laboratories at the Lerner Research Institute and Cleveland Clinic, as well as being a founding partner in the National Institutes of Health’s Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network. Additionally, Dr. Penn directs the Skirball Laboratory for Cardiovascular Cellular Therapeutics and is Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Earl and Doris Bakken Heart-Brain Institute.
“The new center and our role in the NIH’s consortium are working to actually bring what we’re learning about cardiovascular cell therapies to patients,” he says.
This story appeared in the spring 2009 issue of Lerner Research Institute Magazine.
To make a gift supporting the Lerner Research Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure online giving site, or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.