Editor's note: In early 2012, the University of Connecticut announced that a three-year investigation of Professor Dipak Das found extensive evidence he had falsified data in certain studies. It is unclear yet which of Das' studies are compromised, but his findings on wine and polyphenols are now under question.
Resveratrol sometimes seems like the duct tape of red wine—it has an infinite number of uses. A team of scientists now suggests the polyphenolic compound found in red wine may heal broken hearts.
Their research, published online last week in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, found that their attempts to heal heart damage with stem cells were more successful when the cells were in the presence of resveratrol. The researchers concluded that resveratrol increases the survival rates of these types of cells when used in cardiac regeneration experiments in the lab on rats.
Stem cells are a source of interest in the scientific community for their ability to transform into multiple types of cells. In this case, the research team used adult stem cells. Unlike human embryonic stem cells, which are at the center of a court battle over whether federally funded research should employ cells obtained by destroying frozen embryos, the cells used in this experiment to try to heal cardiovascular damage are found throughout the body at all ages.
The study is from the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Connecticut. Co-author Dipak Das is a longtime researcher in the field of polyphenols, plant-based chemicals that are known antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which is found in the skins of wine grapes. The researchers selected resveratrol for the tests because it enhances the antioxidant defense mechanism and may "maintain a safer niche for the stem cells."
In the experiment, the researchers made incisions in the hearts of rats and then sutured the wounds, simulating damage from a heart attack. The rats were then injected with stem cells directly into the heart in order to see if the cells would convert into healthy heart tissue and begin healing the wound.
In the run-up to surgery, one group of rats was given resveratrol supplements along with daily meals for two weeks. In these rats, the scientist found the stem cells faced a less stressful environment at the site of the wound. This lead them to conclude that resveratrol's ability to operate as an antioxidant, clearing out damaging free radicals, likely made the environment in the heart tissue more conducive to healing.
When resveratrol and stem cells are used in concert, "cardiac function was significantly improved" compared to heart tissue treated with stem cells alone, according to the text.
However, the experiment was ultimately a failure as the "stem cells failed to survive for a prolonged time," the study found. Without resveratrol the stem cells failed after seven days, whereas with resveratrol treatment the cells lived to 28 days. Obviously more study is needed, but such a treatment could hold hope for heart attack survivors.