Cedars-Sinai Blog

Young Cells Could Rejuvenate Old Hearts

"We find that these specialized cells could turn out to reverse problems associated with aging of the heart," says Dr. Eduardo Marbán.

What if aging was reversible?

It's not just a question of fine lines and wrinkles. A new Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute study finds that cells from young hearts could someday help reverse the aging process, making older hearts behave like younger ones.

"It's kind of like an unexpected fountain of youth."

"Our previous lab studies and human clinical trials have shown promise in treating heart failure using cardiac stem cell infusions," says Dr. Eduardo Marbán, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the primary investigator of the study. "Now we find that these specialized cells could turn out to reverse problems associated with aging of the heart."

This study, published in the European Heart Journal, used cardiac progenitor cells—which are like stem cells in that they can differentiate into other kinds of cells, but they're more specific than stem cells. They're a bit like stem cells that already know what they want to be when they grow up.


Read: What Are Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells?


The cells were derived from newborn laboratory rats and injected into the hearts of older rats, which appeared reinvigorated after their infusions. The cells improved heart function and had a host of other benefits:

  • Heart cell telomeres, structures at the end of chromosomes that shrink with age, were longer
  • Exercise capacity improved by about 20%
  • Hair regrew faster than expected

"It's extremely exciting," Dr. Marbán told CNN. Witnessing "the systemic rejuvenating effects—it's kind of like an unexpected fountain of youth."

"The vesicles from young cells seem to contain all the needed instructions to turn back the clock."

The cardiac progenitor cells secrete tiny vesicles, structures that are full of signaling molecules like RNA and proteins. The cells were given to rats with an average age of 22 months, which is considered old for a rat. Other rats from the same age group received a placebo treatment. Both groups were compared with a group of rats with an average age of 4 months old.

"The vesicles from young cells seem to contain all the needed instructions to turn back the clock," Dr. Marbán says.

Researchers are continuing to study how these cell infusions may eventually be useful in human hearts. So far, there is no evidence that the cells can extend lifespans—just that they seem to improve quality of life.

Since Dr. Marbán's team completed the world's first cardiac stem cell infusion in 2009, the Heart Institute has made significant contributions to decoding and understanding how cardiac stem cells regenerate damaged heart muscle.

The team is studying the use of stem cells to treat patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy as well as patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, a condition that affects more than 50% of all heart failure patients.


Read: Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Heart Failure—What’s the Difference?


General support for Dr. Marbán's laboratory is provided by the National Institutes of Health. The CDCs, manufactured by Capricor Inc. (NASDAQ: CAPR) as its product CAP-1002, have been used in other human clinical trials.