Researchers Heal Heart Damage in Monkeys by Using Donated Stem Cells

Researchers in Japan just healed heart damage in macaque monkeys with induced pluripotent stem cells. The findings have important implications for stem cell medical research. The technique could eventually be used to treat organ damage in humans. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature.

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are mature cells that have been exposed to triggers that force them back to a stem cell state. These cells have the ability to become any type of cell if given the proper signals. While iPSCs can be used to treat certain types of heart damage, they’re not practical on a wide scale. The body’s immune system will reject donated cells as foreign. Unfortunately, growing them from the patient’s own cells takes a lot of time and resources.

Researchers from Japan studied a group of five crab-eating macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) that had experienced minor heart attacks. The researchers injected the monkeys with heart cells grown from a separate donor monkey. The team matched donors to recipients based on which animals had similar immune system molecules. The researchers also dosed the monkeys with methylprednisolone and tacrolimus, mild immunosuppressant medications. After twelve weeks, the donated heart cells had survived and none were rejected by the host. Some of the heart damage was healed and cardiac function was improved. There were side effects, however, and the researchers noted that the macaques developed irregular heartbeats.

The team’s results show that it’s possible to donate stem cells to another individual without the cells being rejected by the immune system. The research team successfully treated heart damage in macaque monkeys by using donated heart cells derived from pluripotent stem cells. There were side effects, however, and more research is needed to perfect the technique. While the procedure is years away from human trials, initial research is promising and could help patients with certain types of heart damage.


Yuji Shiba et al. Allogeneic transplantation of iPS cell-derived cardiomyocytes regenerates primate hearts. Nature (2016).

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