Heart Disease Fact Sheet

CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand heart disease and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.


Heart disease strikes in many forms, but collectively it causes one third of all deaths in the U.S. Many forms of heart disease have a common result—cardiomyopathy. While this is commonly called congestive heart failure (CHF), it is really just the heart becoming less efficient due to any number of causes, but the most common is loss of functioning heart muscle due to the damage caused by a heart attack. An estimated 4.8 million Americans have CHF, with 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Half die within five years.

Numerous clinical trials are underway testing a type of stem cell found in borne marrow, called mesenchymal stem cells or MSCs, to see if they are effective in treating the form of CHF that follows a heart attack. While those trials have shown some small improvements in patients the researchers have not found that the MSCs are creating replacement heart muscle. They think the improvements may be due to the MSCs creating new blood vessels that then help make the existing heart muscle healthier, or in other ways strengthening the existing tissue.

California’s stem cell agency has numerous awards looking into heart disease (the full list is below). Most of these involve looking for ways to create stem cells that can replace the damaged heart muscle, restoring the heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood around the body. Some researchers are looking to go beyond transplanting cells into the heart and are instead exploring the use of tissue engineering technologies, such as building artificial scaffolds in the lab and loading them with stem cells that, when placed in the heart, may stimulate the recovery of the muscle.

Other CIRM-funded researchers are working in the laboratory, looking at stem cells from heart disease patients to better understand the disease and even using those models to discover and test new drugs to see if they are effective in treating heart disease. Other researchers are trying to make a type of specialized heart cell called a pacemaker cell, which helps keep a proper rhythm to the heart’s beat.

We also fund projects that are trying to take promising therapies out of the laboratory and closer to being tested in people. These Disease Team Awards encourage the creation of teams that have both the scientific knowledge and business skills needed to produce therapies that can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be tested in people. In some cases, these awards also fund the early phase clinical trials to show that they are safe to use and, in some cases, show some signs of being effective.

Disease Team Awards

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

This team developed a way to isolate some heart-specific stem cells that are found in adult heart muscle. They use clumps of cells called Cardiospheres to reduce scarring caused by heart attacks. Initially they used cells obtained from the patient’s own heart but they later developed methods to obtain the cells they need from donor organs, which allows the procedure to become an off-the-shelf-therapy, meaning it can be available when and where the patient needs it rather than having to create it new each time. The company, working with the Cedars-Sinai team, received FDA approval to begin a clinical trial in June 2012. 

Stanford School of Medicine

This team plans to turn embryonic stem cells into what are called cardiomyocites, the kind of cells that can become heart muscle. They plan to develop methods for producing sufficient quantities for clinical therapy and to do all the laboratory work and preliminary testing needed to gain FDA approval of a clinical trial by the close of the grant. They are proposing to carry out a trial with patients who have disease that is so advanced that they are on a waiting list for heart transplants.

Video: Bruce Conklin of the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease talks about using stem cells to screen drugs for heart side effects

CIRM Grants Targeting Heart Disease

Researcher name Institution Grant Title Approved funds
Ali Nsair University of California, Los Angeles Characterization and Engineering of the Cardiac Stem Cell Niche $1,127,741
Sheng Ding Gladstone Institutes A new paradigm of lineage-specific reprogramming $1,708,560
Huei-sheng Chen Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Development of Neuro-Coupled Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Cardiac Pacemaker Cells. $695,680
Farah Sheikh University of California, San Diego Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Human Cardiac Cell Junction Maturation and Disease Using Human iPSC $1,341,955
Eduardo Marbán Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Mechanism of heart regeneration by cardiosphere-derived cells $1,367,604
Michelle Khine University of California, Irvine Micro Platform for Controlled Cardiac Myocyte Differentiation $156,426
Sean Wu Stanford University Elucidating Molecular Basis of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy with Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells $1,260,537
Ali Nsair University of California, Los Angeles Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Cardiovascular Progenitor Cells for Cardiac Cell Therapy. $3,004,315
Phillip Yang Stanford University In Vivo Molecular Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Human Embryonic Stem Cells in Murine Model of Myocardial Infarction $629,952
John Laird University of California, Davis Phase I study of IM Injection of VEGF Producing MSC for the Treatment of Critical Limb Ischemia $76,066
Reza Ardehali University of California, Los Angeles Preclinical evaluation of human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiovascular progenitors $2,930,388
Benoit Bruneau Gladstone Institutes Induction of cardiogenesis in pluripotent cells via chromatin remodeling factors $2,723,653
Jane Lebkowski Geron Corporation Preclinical Development and First-In-Human Testing of [REDACTED] in Advanced Heart Failure $0
Joseph Wu Stanford University Tissue Collection for Accelerating iPSC Research in Cardiovascular Diseases $1,291,834
Ching-Pin Chang Stanford University VEGF signaling in adventitial stem cells in vascular physiology and disease $3,005,695
Robert Robbins Stanford University Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes for Patients with End Stage Heart Failure $73,030
Thomas Novak Cellular Dynamics International Generation and characterization of high-quality, footprint-free human induced pluripotent stem cell lines from 3,000 donors to investigate multigenic diseases $16,000,000
Kara McCloskey University of California, Merced Building Cardiac Tissue from Stem Cells and Natural Matrices $1,656,705
Irving Weissman Stanford University Prospective isolation of hESC-derived hematopoietic and cardiomyocyte stem cells $2,471,386
Deepak Srivastava Gladstone Institutes Direct Cardiac Reprogramming for Heart Regeneration $6,319,110
Cristian Perez Coriell Institute for Medical Research The CIRM Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Biorepository – A Resource for Safe Storage and Distribution of High Quality iPSCs $9,942,175
Randall Lee University of California, San Francisco Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Therapies Targeting Cardiac Ischemic Disease $2,424,353
Joseph Wu Stanford University Heart Repair with Human Tissue Engineered Myocardium $4,397,241
John Cashman Human BioMolecular Research Institute Improving Existing Drugs for Long QT Syndrome type 3 (LQT3) by hiPSC Disease-in-Dish Model $6,361,369
Harold Bernstein University of California, San Francisco Modeling Myocardial Therapy with Human Embryonic Stem Cells $2,134,694
Walter Boyd University of California, Davis Extracellular Matrix Bioscaffold Augmented with Human Stem Cells for Cardiovascular Repair $4,631,754
Christian Metallo University of California, San Diego Metabolic regulation of cardiac differentiation and maturation $1,124,834
Christopher Zarins Stanford University Engineering a Cardiovascular Tissue Graft from Human Embryonic Stem Cells $2,454,490
Eric Adler University of California, San Diego Identification of Novel Therapeutics for Danon Disease Using an iPS Model of the Disease $1,701,575
Michelle Khine University of California, Merced Micro Platform for Controlled Cardiac Myocyte Differentiation $194,371
Robb Maclellan University of California, Los Angeles Human Cardiovascular Progenitors, their Niches and Control of Self-renewal and Cell Fate $917,667
Mark Mercola Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Chemical Genetic Approach to Production of hESC-derived Cardiomyocytes $2,832,000
Yang Xu University of California, San Diego Human ES cell based therapy of heart failure without allogenic immune rejection $1,857,600
Todd McDevitt Gladstone Institutes Engineering microscale tissue constructs from human pluripotent stem cells $6,368,285
Eduardo Marbán Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Autologous cardiac-derived cells for advanced ischemic cardiomyopathy $5,560,232
Patrick McDonough Vala Sciences, Inc. Optimization in the Identification, Selection and Induction of Maturation of Subtypes of Cardiomyocytes derived from Human Embryonic Stem Cells $870,717
Rachel Smith Capricor, Inc Allogeneic Cardiac-Derived Stem Cells for Patients Following a Myocardial Infarction $19,782,136
Michael Snyder Stanford University Center of Excellence for Stem Cell Genomics $22,796,609
Bruce Conklin Gladstone Institutes Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells for Cardiovascular Diagnostics $1,708,560
Mohammad Pashmforoush University of Southern California Transcriptional Regulation of Cardiac Pacemaker Cell Progenitors $2,816,578
Joseph Wu Stanford University Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Cardiomyocytes for Patients with End Stage Heart Failure $19,942,877
Larry Couture City of Hope Development of a scalable, practical, and transferable GMP-compliant suspension culture-based differentiation process for cardiomyocyte production from human embryonic stem cells. $899,728
Michael Longaker Stanford University Derivation and analysis of pluripotent stem cell lines with inherited TGF-b mediated disorders from donated IVF embryos and reprogrammed adult skin fibroblasts $1,406,636
Andrew Putnam University of California, Irvine A Novel Engineered Niche to Explore the Vasculogenic Potential of Embryonic Stem Cells $395,764
Huei-sheng Chen Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute Studying Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia with patient-specific iPS cells $1,582,606
Shaochen Chen University of California, San Diego Development of 3D Bioprinting Techniques using Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived Cardiomyocytes for Cardiac Tissue Engineering $1,368,517
Sylvia Evans University of California, San Diego Specification of Ventricular Myocyte and Pacemaker Lineages Utilizing Human Embryonic Stem Cells $585,600
Irving Weissman Stanford University Antibody tools to deplete or isolate teratogenic, cardiac, and blood stem cells from hESCs $1,463,814
Benoit Bruneau Gladstone Institutes Epigenetic regulation of human cardiac differentiation $1,708,560
Joseph Wu Stanford University Advanced animal model for predictive preclinical testing of engineered cardiac autografts and allografts $1,689,744
Krishna Shenoy Stanford University Technology for hESC-Derived Cardiomyocyte Differentiation and Optimization of Graft-Host Integration in Adult Myocardium $572,891
Deepak Srivastava Gladstone Institutes Mechanisms of Direct Cardiac Reprogramming $1,572,380
Deborah Lieu University of California, Davis Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Pacemaking Cells $1,333,800
John Cashman Human BioMolecular Research Institute Discovering Potent Molecules with Human ESCs to Treat Heart Disease $688,274

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