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Former rival researchers are using stem cells to repair damaged hearts Getty

Scientists are using stem cells to develop new kinds of muscle tissues which can beat in time with a patient's damaged heart.

One of the major problems with current heart surgery is that muscle tissue grafted into a heart does not always beat in time with the rest of the damaged heart.

Now experts are starting to grow a novel kind of heart muscle cell using stem cells.

The stem cells and the tissue grown from them contain proteins are sensitive to light, called rhodopsins. When exposed to light the proteins act as a switch, which can harmonise the rhythms of the new muscle tissue with the rest of the sinews. This should reduce the likelihood of heart failure following muscle tissue transplants.

The research is an international collaboration between two professors who are former rivals. They are Chris Denning from the University of Nottingham and Lior Gepstein, from the Rappaport Insitute in Haifa, Israel.

"For years, Professor Gepstein and I have been competing to be the first in our field," says Professor Denning. "But this project means that instead of each team doing the same things twice, we will be coordinating our efforts to ensure we can help heart patients as soon as possible."

The team is making use of induced pluripotent stem cell technology. Induced pluripotent stem cells have been a massive step forward for biotechnology since they were discovered in 2006.

Pluripotent stem cells can grow into any kind of cell in the human body. But before 2006 they could only be harvested from embryos, which lead to ethical as well as practical problems.

Induced pluripotent stems cells can turn adult human cells into stem cells and can also match adult stem cells. They can be used to extract particular kinds of cells from an individual, derive stem cells from them, and grow an unlimited supply of the cells in a laboratory.

Funding for the research is coming from the British Heart Foundation and the British Council's Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange partnership.

"The grant ensures we can work on a very promising technique for solving one of the major challenges in regenerative medicine to mend a broken heart," added Professor Denning.