Heart cells created in the lab

MONASH (AUS) — Scientists will be able to mimic the effects of heart disease in a petri dish after identifying a new, reliable way to produce heart cells in the lab.

New research published in the journal Nature Methods shows how human heart cells can be consistently produced from embryonic stem cells, creating a potentially inexhaustible source for research and drug discovery.

Researchers were able to isolate the heart cells by turning them green, says David Elliot of Monash University, who co-led the work.


“We linked a green fluorescent marker—originally from a jellyfish—to a gene found in heart cells, causing them to glow,” says Elliott.

“Using this cell line we have discovered two new cell surface proteins that we can use as ‘handles’ to allow us to grab only the cardiac cells from cultures containing different cell types. Importantly, we can use these handles to isolate and study cardiac cells grown from the stem cells of heart disease patients, and, in this way model heart disease in a dish.

“This finding is significant because up until now the development of drugs to treat heart disease has been hampered by the lack of a dependable supply of heart cells for experimentation,” Elliott adds.

In the future these markers could be used to pull out heart cells from cultures without having to use genetic modification to make the desired cells visible, says Andrew Elefanty, a professor at Monash University, who co-led the work with Elliot and colleague Ed Stanley in collaboration with a number of institutions in Australia and overseas.

“We are now starting to make significant steps in the search for stem cell based therapies for heart disease and our findings will drive further research and discovery in this field,” Elefanty says.

A team lead by Elefanty and Stanley are using similar strategies to isolate insulin-producing cells for the treatment of diabetes, and blood cells for the treatment of leukemia.

The Australian researchers were funded by the Australian Stem Cell Centre, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Heart Foundation, and Victorian State Government.

More news from Monash University: www.monash.edu.au/news/