This is a human heart cell, but it doesn’t come from a heart. It was created in a laboratory from an induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell. Because heart cells are difficult to obtain, researchers create iPS cells from other adult cell types – such as skin, blood or other easy-to-access tissues – and then direct the iPS cells to become whichever cell type they – in this case heart. By creating such cells from patients with cardiovascular diseases, scientists can examine disease mechanisms without needing actual heart material. Now researchers are taking the method a step further and combining iPS techniques with gene-editing technology – an approach that enables specific genes of interest to be mutated. By using gene editing within iPS cells (to disrupt genes related to heart function), then directing the cells to become heart cells, researchers can observe how specific mutations can send normal heart cell development awry.
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.