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A New Approach to Stem Cell Maturation

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An interview with Dr. Chulan Kwon, Associate Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Until now, the generation of viable heart muscle cells from pluripotent stem cells has had limited success, with several protocols reporting the resulting heart cells remaining immature in a dish even after a year of culture. This immaturity has emerged as a major obstacle for modelling and treating late-onset heart disease such as cardiomyopathy that manifests predominantly in adults, notes Chulan.

Research in the Kwon lab centres around understanding heart generation and regeneration, with particular focus on the regenerative biology of cardiac progenitors and cardiomyocytes. Recently, the lab has developed a new method of creating mature cardiac muscle cells derived from pluripotent stem cells, using rodent hearts as a bioreactor.

Chulan states that the benefits of this approach are that “the neonatal environment provides potent cues absent in culture for cell maturation. Moreover, the process can be done in an accelerated fashion.”

It is hoped that this process could lead to advances in the understanding of heart disease and provision of precision medicine. “The method enables us to generate mature cardiac muscle cells from patients, which can be utilized for elucidating patient-specific pathogenesis of adult-onset heart muscle disease as well as for personalized drug testing” says Chulan.

The method is not just limited to heart cells, and the Kwon lab has plans to expand the method to generate other types of mature cells prone to disease. This could be fundamental in the development of diagnostics and identification of treatments for a range of diseases. 

To follow progress of this work and other research from Chulan’s lab, please visit http://www.ck-laboratory.org/home.html