The death of cardiac myocytes diminishes the heart's pump function and is a major cause of heart failure, one of the dominant causes of death worldwide. Other than transplantation, there are no therapies that directly address the loss of cardiac myocytes, which explains the current excitement in cardiac regeneration. The field is evolving in two important directions. First, although endogenous mammalian cardiac regeneration clearly seems to decline rapidly after birth, it may still persist in adulthood. The careful elucidation of the cellular and molecular mechanisms of endogenous heart regeneration may therefore provide an opportunity for developing therapeutic interventions that amplify this process. Second, recent breakthroughs have enabled reprogramming of cells that were apparently terminally differentiated, either by dedifferentiation into pluripotent stem cells or by transdifferentiation into cardiac myocytes. These achievements challenge our conceptions of what is possible in terms of heart regeneration. In this review, we discuss the current status of research on cardiac regeneration, with a focus on the challenges that hold back therapeutic development.
Copyright © 2011 EMBO Molecular Medicine.

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Rich Lee seeks to understand heart failure and metabolic diseases that accompany human aging, and translate that understanding into therapies. Lee is an active clinician, regularly treating patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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