TECHNION FOCUS MAGAZINE - Outstanding Achievement Award to Prof. Lior Gepstein
The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) honours Prof. Lior Gepstein of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine with an Outstanding Achievement Award. With this award the ESC Council for Basic Cardiovascular Science annually honours two basic researchers with outstanding accomplishments in the early stage of their career. At the ESC Congress in Paris, Gepstein, together with fellow awardee Thomas Thum of Germany, will each receive an honorary plaque and 3,000 Euros.
The European Society of Cardiology represents over 62,000 cardiology professionals across Europe and the Mediterranean. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Europe.
Stem Cells with a Heart
A Technion study published in Nature in January 2011 shows the ability of human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs ) to recreate - in a Petri dish - a cardiac disorder known as long QT syndrome, enabling researchers to model the abnormal cardiac function and to identify potential new therapeutic agents.
Led by Prof. Lior Gepstein of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, the research team obtained skin cells from a patient known to have long QT syndrome - a disease which affects the heart’s ability to recharge itself after each heartbeat, causing fainting, seizures and even leading to sudden death. The Technion scientists turned the skin cells into iPSCs and then coaxed these all-purpose stem cells to become cardiac cells.
These newly created beating heart cells showed abnormal electrical activity, mimicking that of the patient’s actual heart, and enabling the scientists to test the efficacy of different drugs on the cells.
While some patients acquire the syndrome after taking certain medications, Gepstein’s patient was a 28-year-old woman with an inherited form of the disorder - type-2 LQTS - caused by a single genetic mutation. In this case, the individual cardiac cells derived from iPSCs demonstrated the same long recharging period and arrhythmia common in the hearts of long QT syndrome patients.
The study represents a new paradigm to help scientists learn more about how a disease like long QT syndrome works at the cellular level. Gepstein said that the disease “could be demonstrated and studied at the single-cell or multicellular level, but it doesn’t require an entire organ, which of course we cannot create.”
But it also offers a glimpse at the future of personalized medicine, where a patient’s own cells can be used to determine which treatments might work best - or should be avoided - for a particular condition. Furthermore, since heart biopsies, for example, are hard to obtain, this methodology using iPSCs also offers a novel way to study diseased cells that cannot easily be removed from the body. Researchers around the world are also using iPSCs to study other heart diseases and nervous system disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Gepstein said.
The research team at the Sohnis and Forman Families Center of Excellence for Stem Cell and Tissue Regeneration Research included Ilanit Itzhaki, Leonid Meizels, Irit Huber, and colleagues.