Cardiac defects recreated in a dish and other tales of the heart

Scientists have grown beating heart cells in a lab dish, complete with a heart defect. Meanwhile, global cardiac statistics are in. See who has the lowest blood pressure or the worst cholesterol.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

I just read that love lowers blood pressure, reduces depression, and speeds the healing process. Also, strong connections increase survival odds by 50%, and they're as beneficial as exercise and quitting smoking. So, for today, here are some stories from this past week about our favorite red pumping device.

1. Heart defect recreated in a lab dish

With skin cells taken from children who have a rare heart disorder, scientists have grown heart cells in the lab that beat and carry the same defect.

“Because every cell in our body has the same genetic programing, that means we can take skin cells and reprogram them to generate stem cells, and we can take those cells to make heart cells," explains Ricardo Dolmetsch of Stanford University.

His team collected skin cells from children with Timothy syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes autism and long QT syndrome – a defect in the timing of the heart's contractions, making it beat out of sync.

This finding will make it possible to test drugs in human cells rather mice.

But most heart drugs had no effect on the cells. What did seem to help was an experimental cancer drug called roscovitine studied by Cyclacel Pharmaceuticals Inc. Several drug companies, including Pfizer, Roche, and Amgen, have expressed interest in licensing some of the lines.

From “US scientists recreate heart defect in a lab dish” [Reuters]. The study was published in Nature last week.

2. An update on global risks for cardiovascular disease

Well, the world is getting fattier, blood pressure is going down globally, and cholesterol is falling in rich countries but rising in developing ones.

More than a 100 collaborators used national data and surveys from 199 countries and regions to produce a huge project published this month.

Some details:

  • lowest blood pressures: South Korean women and American men
  • highest blood pressures: Baltic countries and east and west Africa
  • worst cholesterol: Icelandic men and women in Greenland
  • largest drop in average cholesterol: US, Canada, Sweden, and Finland
  • obesity increased from 4.8% of the world's men in 1980 to 9.8% now, from 7.9% to 13.8% in women

"Our results show that overweight and obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are no longer Western problems or problems of wealthy nations," says project head Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London. "Their presence has shifted towards low- and middle-income countries, making them global problems."

From “Report on global cardiac risks: World gets fatter, but blood pressure goes down” [Washington Post]. The findings are published as 3 papers – blood pressure, body-mass index, cholesterol – in Lancet.

3. New drug prevents strokes

Apixaban, a new anti-clotting drug, works better than aspirin for preventing stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) – a common, sometimes lethal, heart rhythm problem.

The pill could reduce risk by 55% compared to aspirin, though it isn’t FDA approved yet.

In AF, an irregular beating of the heart causes blood to pool in the heart's chambers. The heart then throws clots up into the arteries supplying blood to the brain, greatly raising the risks for stroke.

Anticoagulants can decrease stroke risk by up to 70%, according to study coauthor Hans-Christoph Diener of University Hospital Essen in Germany.

However, about half of these patients refuse to take the standby prescription warfarin because of its bleeding risks and various restrictions. But, many patients can/do take daily aspirin, which cuts the odds of stroke dramatically.

And after a study involving 5,599 AF patients, where warfarin was found unsuitable, apixaban appeared to be an alternative. The study was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer, who are working jointly to develop apixaban.

From: “New Drug May Help Patients With Irregular Heartbeat Avoid Stroke” [HealthDay News via Businessweek]. The study was published in New England Journal of Medicine.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I’ll be skinning and stuffing a bird at the Smithsonian.

Image by Ben Werdmuller von Elgg via Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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