Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Substitute Cells
01 March 2017

Substitute Cells

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

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