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Circulation Journal
Vol. 74 (2010) No. 12 p. 2517-2526




Over the past decade, the ability to culture and differentiate human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) has offered researchers a novel therapeutic that may, for the first time, repair regions of the damaged heart. Studies of cardiac development in lower organisms have led to identification of the transforming growth factor-β superfamily (eg, activin A and bone morphogenic protein 4) and the Wnt/β-catenin pathway as key inducers of mesoderm and cardiovascular differentiation. These factors act in a context-specific manner (eg, Wnt/β-catenin is required initially to form mesoderm but must be antagonized thereafter to make cardiac muscle). Different lines of ESCs produce different levels of agonists and antagonists for these pathways, but with careful optimization, highly enriched populations of immature cardiomyocytes can be generated. These cardiomyocytes survive transplantation to infarcted hearts of experimental animals, where they create new human myocardial tissue and improve heart function. The grafts generated by cell transplantation have been small, however, leading to an exploration of tissue engineering as an alternate strategy. Engineered tissue generated from preparations of human cardiomyocytes survives poorly after transplantation, most likely because of ischemia. Creation of pre-organized vascular networks in the tissue markedly enhances survival, with human capillaries anastomosed to the host coronary circulation. Thus, pathways controlling formation of the human cardiovascular system are emerging, yielding the building blocks for tissue regeneration that may address the root causes of heart failure. (Circ J 2010; 74: 2517-2526)


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