Researchers have changed a star-shaped brain cell and a skin cell into a heart cell — offering the possibility of cell-based therapy for cardiovascular diseases.

Heart cells are one of the most sought-after cells in regenerative medicine because they could potentially repair injured hearts by replacing lost tissue.

Researchers of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine showed the direct conversion of a non-heart cell type into a heart cell by RNA transfer.

The signature of a cell is defined by molecules called messenger RNAs (mRNAs) — the chemical blueprint for making a protein.

Investigators changed an astrocyte (a star-shaped brain cell) and a fibroblast (a skin cell) into a heart cell, using mRNAs, reports the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study conducted by James Eberwine, professor of pharmacology, Tae Kyung Kim, post-doctoral fellow, and colleagues offers the possibility for cell-based therapy for cardiovascular diseases, according to a Pennsylvania statement.

“What’s new about this approach for heart-cell generation is that we directly converted one cell type to another using RNA, without an intermediate step,” Eberwine explained.

The scientists put an excess of heart cell mRNAs into either astrocytes or fibroblasts using lipid-mediated transfection, and the host cell does the rest. Transfection involves opening pores or “holes” in the cell membrane, to allow the uptake of material.