Heart stopping?

Winter 2017

Want to know whether a drug will damage a patient’s heart? Turns out you may be able to test that in a lab dish.

A team of Stanford researchers demonstrated that adult stem cells can be transformed into heart muscle cells that faithfully mirror the pattern of gene expression of a person’s native heart tissue.

The stem cells studied were induced pluripotent stem cells — cells isolated from adult tissues such as skin and blood and enabled to differentiate into a variety of cell types.   

The team investigated how the iPS cells responded to two drugs known to cause adverse cardiac effects in some people, but physicians can’t currently predict whom. The cells of one research participant responded differently to rosiglitazone, a drug sometimes used to treat diabetes. That person “exhibited a very abnormal expression of genes in a key metabolic pathway,” says cardiovascular medicine instructor Elena Matsa, PhD, who is the lead author of the study.

The study, which was published in August 2016 in Cell Stem Cell, validates the use of iPS cells to test the potential cardiotoxicity of certain drugs and to devise new therapies for conditions like cardiomyopathy.