London: Scientists have discovered a way to transform ordinary tissue into beating heart muscle cells, a finding they say could soon pave the way for new therapeutic approaches for making a damaged heart to repair itself.
   
Using a zebrafish system, a team from Fudan University in China developed a small and robust molecule that can transform stem cells into beating heart muscle cells.
   
The scientists, who detailed their work in the Journal of Chemistry & Biology, believe their research could pave the way to new treatment for heart disease.
   
"Despite advances in medicine, management of myocardial infarction [heart attack] and heart failure remains a major challenge," Dr Tao Zhong, who led the research, was quoted as saying by a daily.
   
"Developing therapies that can stimulate heart muscle regeneration in areas of infarction would have enormous medical impact," he said.
   
Zebrafish is an excellent model organism to study heart growth and development as there are established genetic approaches that permit visualisation of fluorescent beating hearts within transparent embryos.    

After screening nearly 4,000 compounds, the researchers discovered three structurally related molecules that could selectively enlarge the size of the embryonic heart.
   
The compounds -- cardionogen-1, 2, and 3 -- could promote or inhibit heart formation, depending on when they were administered during development.
   
The researchers found that cardionogen treatment enlarged the zebrafish heart by stimulating production of new cardiac muscle cells from stem cells.
   
They went on to show that cardionogen could stimulate mouse embryonic stem cells to differentiation into beating cardiac muscle cells.
   
The next step is to test cardionogen on human cells, said Dr Zhong.

(Agencies)