LUMC: Inexhaustible source of human heart muscle cells can greatly reduce animal use

Special technique

‘Using a special technique, the researchers have now created an almost inexhaustible source of human heart muscle cells with many new possibilities for research into heart disease,’ according to the LUMC. The results are published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

atrial fibrillation

At the Heart Disease Department at the LUMC, Twan de Vries and colleagues are conducting research into the heart condition atrial fibrillation. For this they use, among other things, laboratory animals. ‘This has all kinds of disadvantages’, says De Vries. ‘The use of laboratory animals is socially charged, the care is expensive and the heart muscle cells of animals behave differently from human heart muscle cells in many respects.’ The researchers would therefore prefer to use human heart muscle cells, but because these cells hardly multiply in the body, let alone in a laboratory, they simply cannot get enough heart muscle cells for their research.


By applying an old trick of inserting a cancer gene into the DNA of heart muscle cells, the researchers hoped that the cells would multiply strongly. That worked great, but the cells lost their specific properties, such as the ability to contract, so that they were no longer heart muscle cells. ‘Then I thought: what if we could switch off the cancer gene again?’, says De Vries. And so it happened. The first trial with this cancer gene that could be turned ‘on’ and ‘off’ was a great success.

‘Sharing like crazy’

De Vries: ‘By adding a substance to the cells, the cancer gene becomes ‘active’. The heart muscle cells then lose their properties and start dividing like crazy. By removing the substance, the cancer gene goes ‘off’ and the cells become beating heart muscle cells again.’ This has provided a virtually inexhaustible source of human cardiomyocytes.

Fewer lab animals

This discovery allows for better research into potential new drugs for heart disease, because they can now actually be tested on real human cells. This can make an important contribution to reducing the use of laboratory animals. For this reason, the research was funded by the Proefdiervrij Foundation.

More insight into heart disease

The new technique also enables the researchers to very accurately find out which genes are responsible for the specific properties of heart muscle cells and for the multiplication of these cells. This will enable researchers in the future to understand much better how exactly heart muscle cells work and how heart diseases, such as atrial fibrillation, develop. This knowledge can also be used to develop new methods to repair damaged hearts.

LUMC: Inexhaustible source of human heart muscle cells can greatly reduce animal use
Source link LUMC: Inexhaustible source of human heart muscle cells can greatly reduce animal use

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