~Cardiovascular Disease Comprehensive 20 - Evidence that Cardiac Cells Divide


Most tissues and organs are equipped to deal with injury more efficiently than the heart. For example, the mending of broken bones and renewal of injured skin is so mundane they are taken for granted. Until recently, it was thought that myocytes (muscle cells) of the adult heart were incapable of self-renewal; once damaged, always damaged, without hope of regeneration. Reports published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicate this may not be the case (Beltrami et al. 2001).

Researchers looked at heart muscle cells from the hearts of 13 deceased patients, 4-12 days after their heart attack. These findings were compared to the hearts of 10 patients who had not died of cardiovascular disease. Samples of heart tissue were taken from the area near the site of the heart attack and from a site more distant from the damage. Scientists found that the number of myocytes multiplying in diseased hearts was 70 times higher in the border zone and 24 times higher in the remote area. The presence of cell division in the nondiseased portion of the heart suggests a continuous turnover of cells during the lifespan of the organism. It is now thought that cardiac muscle cells can reproduce, advancing the premise that this process may be a component of the growth reserve of the human heart. The ramifications of this research allow for the prospect of replacing damaged myocardium by stimulating the heart's own repair capacity.

The focus of current study is to identify the premature stem cells that give rise to multiplying myocytes, encouraging growth and repair in damaged areas. The challenge will be to persuade these cells to move to regions of tissue damage to facilitate repair and reduce heart failure. While these reports raise hopes for employing the body's capacity for self-renewal, the excitement must be tempered by the scope of the obstacles. While the hurdles to overcome are sizable, current studies have advanced understanding by challenging dogma. Demonstrating that cardiac muscles are capable of regeneration opens up remarkable pathways for healing an ailing heart (Mercola 2001a).

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