'Glowing' firefly stem cells repair damaged hearts

University of Central Florida (UCF) researchers could repair and monitor damaged hearts without cutting into a patient's chest with the use of glowing "firefly" stem cells, which are created with the same exact enzyme that makes fireflies glow. The stem cells were engineered by Steven Ebert, an associate professor in UCF's College of Medicine, and the study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

As the "firefly" stem cells develop into healthy heart muscle, they glow brighter and brighter, which allows researchers to watch and determine if the stem cells are working and where exactly they are. To do this, a special camera lens is used under a microscope to see the stem cells without ever having to cut into the patient's chest.

"The question that we answered was, 'How do you follow these cells in the lab and find out where they're going?'" said Ebert.

Up until now, researchers were unsure as to why stem cells "morph" into organs where they are transplanted. They were also unsure of how fast it takes stem cells to do it. But with Ebert's research and use of "firefly" stem cells, these glowing stem cells can be observed step by step.

According to Ebert, the next step in this type of research would be to use these stem cells in a disease model to observe how they heal a damaged heart and determine what sort of environment would help these stem cells become most successful.

Figuring out how these stem cells repair and regenerate heart tissue could help the 17.6 million Americans dealing with coronary disease. In addition, with the use of "firefly" stem cells, the monitoring of the stem cells would not require cutting into the chest anymore.

Source: Stem Cell and Development Journal

Posted by Lee Mather

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