Keck Professor Patents Heart Attack Therapy

Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences (KGI) Professor Ian Phillips and University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor of Medicine Yao Liang Tang were granted a patent Sept. 13 for their research involving the isolation and use of stem cells in the recovery of heart attack patients and patients suffering from heart failure—ailments for which there are currently no definitive cures. KGI, which is located south of the Claremont Colleges along Arrow Highway, is a member of the Claremont University Consortium (CUC).

The patent was granted specifically for a two-step process, mostly executed in Phillips’s lab at KGI, that allows for the production of a large numbers of stem cells from healthy heart tissue to replace the damaged heart tissue in patients.

“The research was a novel method to take stem cells from existing healthy heart tissue to make pure adult cardiac stem cells, the best type of stem cells for repairing heart tissue,” said Phillips, who has been at KGI since 2006. “Pending FDA approval, they could be used to treat heart failure.”

According to Phillips, the method allows for the production of stem cells without the use of digestive enzymes, which often contaminates cell cultures with connective tissue, disqualifying them for use in heart repair.

“This is part of what makes the research ‘novel,’” Phillips said.

The patent application, which was filed in 2007, took four years to be approved.

“Most of the delays occur while the examiner in the United States Patent Office goes through all the literature to find if anything in our findings was previously known and published before we filed,” Phillips said. “We had to show that our work was original and different. At first the examiner disagreed, and the back and forth arguments took weeks, which turned into months and years. It takes a lot of time.”

The patent was granted for one specific collection of research reports, “Enriched stem cell and progenitor cell populations, and methods of producing and using such populations.” Both Phillips and Tang said their research into the subject will continue.

“It is not complete yet,” said Tang, a former KGI professor. “We are continuing to find ways to improve treatment for heart failure and moving into a new area where we look at what controls the cardiac stem cells to become pumping heart cells.”

“[We] have found that short RNA strands, called microRNAs, play an important role,” he added.

Tang said he is looking for ways to apply the concept of stem cell production from this project to other cells.

“My future plan is to directly differentiate cardiac stem cells to cardiomyocytes, endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells, and tissue,” he said. “I would like to engineer these cells to make artificial heart tissue and for heart repair.”

The Sept. 13 patent only covers the application of the new method to cardiac cells.

“The method could be expanded to include making pure adult stem cells from other tissues like pancreas, liver, skin, and bone,” Phillips said.

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