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Stem Cells and Cardiac Disease: Where are We Going?

During the last 10 years we have witnessed the development of a new field in research termed Stem Cell Therapy. Classically, it was considered that cells had a limited division and differentiation ability; however, this dogma was challenged when new exciting results about cell multi/pluripotency were presented to the scientific community. It was found that cells from one adult tissue source were able to originate cells of a very different type. The possibility of transplanting these cells into damaged organs with the aim of substituting sick or dead tissue, triggered many studies to understand the plasticity of the stem cells and their potential in pathological situations. Nowadays, much more is understood about stem cells, although of course, many questions, especially about their mechanism of action, still need to be answered. Their benefit after transplantation has been shown experimentally and even clinically in some cases; however, the degree of stem cell contribution through their own differentiation into the transplanted tissue, has turned out to be generally low, and increasing evidence indicates that a trophic effect must play an important role in such a benefit. A better understanding of the paracrine mechanisms involved could be of great relevance in order to develop new therapies focused on stimulating endogenous cells. On the other hand, more sophisticated methods for cell transplantation combined with bio-engineering techniques have been devised in cardiac disease models. In this review we will try to provide a critical overview of the stem cell studies performed until now and to discuss some of the questions raised about the mechanisms that are involved in their putative reparative effect in cardiovascular diseases, and their origin.

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