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NCKU stem cell research team discovers drug to rejuvenate aged hearts

Tainan, Taiwan, January 27, 2014

A southern Taiwan-based National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) research team has identified the critical time period and a drug as treatment for cardiac repairing, the university revealed today at a press conference. 

The stem cell research team led by Professor Patrick Ching-Ho Hsieh from the Institute of Clinical Medicine, NCKU, has discovered prostaglandin E2, a type of hormone-like medicine, capable of rejuvenating aged hearts.

The discovery sheds light on cardiac cell regeneration and provides another effective option for heart disease patients other than heart transplantation.

Hsieh said that cardiovascular disease such as congestive heart failure is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality throughout the world. Currently, there are about 6 million patients of congestive heart failure in the US and about 0.4 million patients in Taiwan. 

In spite of intensive medical or surgical treatment, 80% of patients die within 8 years of diagnosis, Hsieh added.

He also noted that biomedical research nowadays has couple of milestones for heart diseases; however, the renewing mechanism is still unknown. It is also lacking a drug allowing stimulation of heart regeneration by endogenous stem cells. 

After 7 years of work, Hsieh’s team has identified the critical time period and the essential player for this cardiac repairing process. 

Also a cardiovascular surgeon at the NCKU Hospital, Hsieh’s research group used a special transgenic mouse model he developed when he was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School to investigate how endogenous stem cells regenerate cardiomyocytes following myocardial infarction, or heart attack. 

They showed that the cardiac self-repairing process begins within 7 days after injury and it reaches its maximal activity on day 10. 

The key player for this process is PGE2 and it is important for regulating cardiac stem cell activities. “More importantly, both young and old mice have significant improvements for cardiac repairing if you treat both of them PGE2,” said Hsieh. 

He added, “This is a very interesting phenomenon, which is contradicted with our common sense. Normally, we will assume old mice may not response to PGE2 well. However, it is actually not the case.”

The NCKU research team figured out that PGE2 has the ability to lower the expression of the aging marker gene, transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1, and rejuvenates the micro-environment of the aged cells, Hsieh explained.

In addition to this inspiring discovery about PGE2, they also can deliver PGE2 by systemic injection instead of invasive surgery, said Hsieh who also pointed out that this can provide patients a more feasible and less painful treatment.