NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Consistent with findings from animal studies, data from human subjects suggest that acute MI mobilizes a rare population of very small embryonic-like stem cells (VSELs) with pluripotent markers.

The results also indicate that mobilization of these VSELs is reduced in older patients with diabetes and decreased ejection fraction, according to the report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology for December 30, 2008/January 6, 2009.

“The identification of this distinct population of autologous embryonic stem cell-like pluripotent cells seems quite promising,” Dr. Douglas W. Losordo and Dr. Raj Kishore, from Northwestern University, Chicago, comment in an accompanying editorial.

“The VSELs could potentially provide a real therapeutic alternative to the ethically controversial and technically challenging oocyte-dependent therapeutic cloning and generation of individualized human embryonic stem cells,” they add.

In the current study, principal investigator Mariusz Z. Ratajczak, from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, and colleagues found very low levels of circulating VSELs in 30 healthy subjects. In the 31 acute MI patients, by contrast, VSEL levels rose quickly after the infarction and remained elevated 5 days later.

Analysis of the VSELs showed that they expressed markers of pluripotency, including Oct-4 and Nanog, as well as cardiac lineage and endothelial markers.

“We believe that human VSELs might be potentially useful in future clinical studies in patients with ischemic cardiomyopathy, providing that the technical issues with their large-scale isolation, expansion, and differentiation are resolved,” the authors conclude.

J Am Coll Cardiol 2009;53:1-12.