Embryonic stem cell research is one of the most promising, but also one of the ethically most challenging fields in medicine. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, kidney and liver failure, as well as accidents can result in the destruction of tissues and even complete organs. For patients with end stage heart failure there is a lack of donor organs for transplantation, which may explain the public interest and hopes related to regenerative medicine with stem cells. In Munich, at the Medical Clinic I – Grosshadern (under the direction of Professor Gerhard Steinbeck), a group under Professor Wolfgang-Michael Franz is working on future stem cell therapies for patients who suffer from heart diseases. For the first time the researchers have succeeded in deciphering a key molecular mechanism underlying cardiovascular differentiation, in which the transcription factor MesP-1 plays a prominent role. Subsequently, this knowledge was transferred to program embryonic stem cells towards a cardiovascular fate, thereby increasing the yield of beating cardiomyocytes. These results are published in the scientific journal “Nature Cell Biology.”
Before patients will be able to benefit from this international cooperation, the results will have to be transferred to clinical grade stem cells. These cell lines are only available abroad because the import of new embryonic stem cell lines is currently prohibited by the German Stem Cell Law. Scientists are only allowed to use older, low-quality cell lines that were established before January 1, 2002. The German parliament is discussing an amendment to lift this embargo. Voting is to take place in March 2008.
„MesP1 drives vertebrate cardiovascular differentiation through Dkk-1-mediated blockade of Wnt-signalling“,
R. David, C. Brenner, J. Stieber, F. Schwarz, S. Brunner, M. Vollmer, E. Mentele, J. Müller-Höcker, S. Kitajima, H. Lickert, R. Rupp and W.-M. Franz
„Nature Cell Biology“, online February 24, 2008
Prof. Dr. med. Wolfgang-M. Franz
Medical Clinic at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München