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Heart muscle grown from stem cells may help doctors test treatments

The potential to test for adverse reactions to drugs before a patient takes them could improve treatment.

By
Stephen Feller
For patients without known heart problems, the ability to test drugs before treatment could prevent adverse health events, according to researchers at Stanford University who found a method of doing so using induced pluripotent stem cells. Photo by bluebay/Shutterstock
For patients without known heart problems, the ability to test drugs before treatment could prevent adverse health events, according to researchers at Stanford University who found a method of doing so using induced pluripotent stem cells. Photo by bluebay/Shutterstock

STANFORD, Calif., Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Although some medications cure conditions in a patient with no side effects, some drugs carry risk of side effects that generally cannot be predicted in individual patients until they are experienced during treatment -- a reality that can be life threatening.

Researchers at Stanford found they can test the effects of drugs on the heart using induced pluripotent stem cells, potentially preventing dangerous interaction with drugs that can harm the heart.

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The study, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, is said to push forward precision medicine, a concept of combining genetics, large-scale data research and individualized testing based on both to determine the best treatments for patients.

"Many people talk about precision medicine or precision health, but there are only few examples of how to carry it out in a clinically meaningful way," Dr. Joseph Wu, director of the cardiovascular institute at Stanford University, said in a press release. "I think the patient-derived iPS cell platform gives us a surrogate window into the body and allows us to not only predict the body's function but also to learn more about key disease-associated pathways."

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Because many drugs can affect the heart, and researchers say the discovery of this during clinical trials has led to the demise of many promising medicines, the researchers tested two drugs against heart cells created from induced pluripotent stem cells taken from seven people without heart problems.

IPSCs are stem cells created in a lab from a person, generally using a skin sample, which can then be induced into becoming cells from other parts of the body. Stanford researchers created the heart samples, testing two drugs -- rosiglitazone, a type 2 diabetes drug, and tacrolimus, an immunosuppresant that helps prevent the rejection of organ transplants -- for their effects on the heart, which both are known to have in some patients.

While there was some variation in the cells' response to the drugs, just one had abnormal expression genes in their stem cells, which may correspond to an adverse reaction of the heart if the person were treated with that drug.

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Though researchers were able to correct the abnormality using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique, the more important result of the study is the potential for such testing of drugs, the researchers say.

"Thirty percent of drugs in clinical trials are eventually withdrawn due to safety concerns, which often involve adverse cardiac effects," Wu said. "This study shows that these cells serve as a functional readout to predict how a patient's heart might respond to particular drug treatments and identify those who should avoid certain treatments."

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