This elegant geometric structure is a human heart muscle cell – well, sort of. It actually started life as a skin cell, and then briefly became an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) – a cell with a wide range of possible fates – before adopting its final heart muscle identity. Why would researchers go to all the bother of converting a person’s skin cells into heart cells? Because human heart cells themselves are rather difficult to acquire, especially in large numbers. Skin on the other hand is easy to collect and, once converted into iPSCs, can be grown and expanded practically indefinitely. Having such a ready supply of human heart cells comes in handy for, among other things, testing new cancer drugs. Many anticancer agents have severe cardiotoxic side effects that animal testing may not necessarily reveal. Testing candidate drugs directly on these substitute heart cells could thus identify potentially hazardous ones.
Written by Ruth Williams
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.