Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Master molecule' to improve stem cell treatment

Stem cells are hallowed as a wonder drug that could potentially restore all bodily damage. Because these primitive cells have the capability to turn into any type of tissue, scientists have tried utilizing them to artificially create tissues that consequently can be transplanted into a patient. Despite these promises, delivering actual treatments has proven to be troublesome. Recent studies have shown some success with restoring heart tissue after a heart attack, but these treatments need to be optimized to let patients fully recover with the aid of stem cells. At the John Hopkins University, scientists discovered that one particular protein on its own may significantly improve creation of heart tissue from stem cells, promising more effective treatment of patients with damaged hearts.

Researchers discovered that this protein, confusingly called p190RhoGAP, is an important factor for those wishing to create blood vessels and heart muscle tissue in the lab. It functions as a 'master molecule' or 'central regulator' for creating either vessels or muscle. It seems to function as a switch that, when controlled in the lab, could greatly impact the speed and efficiency at which we make these tissues.

After conducting several experiments, the scientists noted that absence of p190RhoGAP allowed for quick and easy stem cell specialisation into blood vessel tissue. Curiously, increasing the level of the protein resulted in easy creation of heart muscle tissue. Therefore, the level of p190RhoGAP functions as a regulating switch, that can be manipulated to create either desired tissue. It was shown to affect shape, speed of specialisation, speed of division and a bunch of other things, which is quite spectacular for just one molecule.

Creating tissue
Of course, tinkering with the protein would only be useful if it yielded tangible results when using the artificially created tissue for transplantation. According to the scientists, depleting p190RhoGAP resulted in smooth take-up of blood vessel cells into heart tissue that was damaged after a heart attack. This is an important finding for future use of p190RhoGAP modification in stem cell treatment, although the researchers did not use human patients for their experiments.

It is peculiar that one molecule can have such profound effects on the differentiation and specialization of stem cells in the heart. It has various effects on heart cells, but also functions as a switch, promoting development of either blood vessels or heart muscle tissue. Both are needed for effective recovery after a heart attack, so controlling this master switch looks promising for future use in treatment of patients. More research is required to dive into the mechanisms of p190RhoGAP, which should help us to optimize currently existing therapies regarding stem cells and help patients fully recover from a heart attack. 

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