The road to a new treatment for Long QT Syndrome

Credit: Pixbay

Researchers at Nottingham University might have found the answer to developing an alternative treatment for the potentially fatal Long QT syndrome. By using patients skin samples, Professor Chris Denning has successfully produced stem cells, which were then transformed into heart cells. These heart cells contain the genetic predisposition that causes long QT, meaning that the effects of new drugs can be studied in the laboratory. Researchers hope that this technique can be used to help develop new treatments for the syndrome.

Long QT syndrome affects electrical activity within the heart, resulting in the sudden onset of potentially fatal arrhythmias in response to anxiety or exercise. The syndrome is currently treated with beta-blockers, however if medication does not work then a small device known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is fitted. Neither treatment path is perfect and both have side-effects, which is why the new research is so important. 

The research, which is backed by the British Heart Foundation and Heart Research UK is still in its infancy but seems promising.  Indications have already shown the heart cells to have the same electrical activity as found in a whole heart.

30-minute stem cell breakthrough

Credit: Pixabay

Stem cell breakthrough could pave the way on the yellow brick road to personalised medicine

A new and novel method of creating stem cells could revolutionise the future of ‘personalised medicine’. A team of Japanese scientists created stem cells by submerging blood cells in a weak acidic solution. This new method is a cheaper, faster and more effective way of creating the highly sought after cells.

Stem cells are integral to bodily repair as they alone have the capability to differentiate into specialised cells; a phenomenon known as pluripotency. For this reason they’ve formed the bases of regenerative medicine, but the methods of creating these cells have proved problematic.

Until now, there were only two ways of obtaining stem cells. The first was to harvest them from embryos, but this was fraught with ethical implications. The second method was to genetically manipulate adult cells however, serious issues were raised regarding the safety of these genetically modified cells.

The new phenomenon known as, stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) faces none of these problems and is inherently simple. Once submerged in the acidic solution it took just 30 minutes before the blood cells returned to their original embryonic state. The discovery was make by Haruko Obokata, a young stem-cell biologist who had been working on the technique at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe for five years.

In addition to blood cells, the researchers have already successfully created stem cells from brain, muscle, fat, lung, liver and bone-marrow tissue in mice. The technique requires no highly specialised equipment and therefore has the potential to be carried out in a wider number of labs.

The discovery of a method that could safely and ethically create stem cells has long been awaited. It paves the way for ‘personalised medicine’, where doctors would be able to create stem cells using a patients blood or tissue sample. These ‘personalised cells’ would then be reintroduced back into the patient to allow tissue repair, without the fear of rejection.

 

Reference:

Obokata, H et al (2014) Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency. Nature 505, 641–647.