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Cells renew in the human heart

Carbon 14 from Cold War–era nuclear bomb tests allowed researchers to track cell birth

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1:56pm, April 2, 2009

By monitoring carbon 14 emitted from Cold War–era nuclear bomb tests, researchers found that heart muscle cells continue to divide throughout adulthood, shows a study appearing in the April 3 Science. The low-level cell renewal may eventually be exploited to treat damaged hearts, says study coauthor Jonas Frisén of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The finding contradicts the belief of many scientists that the heart muscle cells sticking around until the end were present at birth.

“The dogma has always been that cell division in the heart pretty much stops after birth,” says Charles Murry of the University of Washington in Seattle, whose commentary on the new research appears in the same issue of Science. “In medical school, we teach that you’ll die with the heart cells you’re born with.”

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