Tucked away in that useful little organ constantly toiling in your chest is a previously untapped well of stem cells, which could be used for the future of heart surgery. New research published in Cell Stem Cell identifies a pool of stem cells in the heart, found near blood vessels throughout the organ. Even in adults, these cells can form into a number of different types, including muscle, bone, and neural cells, but the authors think they have a natural propensity towards growing into heart cells.
The theory is that these cells are used to help regenerate the organ when damaged — but if a heart attack hits, the organ actually loses a large number of them, which inhibits its ability to heal. With that in mind, the possibility of transplanting heart stem cells into a heart attack victim seems immediately clear, but the researchers are also hoping to figure out how to activate the dormant cells, and trigger some degree of organ regeneration without a transplant.