Functional cardiomyocytes can now be derived routinely from hPSCs (human pluripotent stem cells), which collectively include embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells. This technology presents new opportunities to develop pharmacologically relevant in vitro screens to detect cardiotoxicity, with a view to improving patient safety while reducing the economic burden to industry arising from high drug attrition rates. In the present article, we consider the need for human cardiomyocytes in drug-screening campaigns and review the strategies used to differentiate hPSCs towards the cardiac lineage. During early stages of differentiation, hPSC-cardiomyocytes display gene expression profiles, ultra-structures, ion channel functionality and pharmacological responses reminiscent of an embryonic phenotype, but maturation during extended time in culture has been demonstrated convincingly. Notably, hPSC-cardiomyocytes have been shown to respond in a highly predictable manner to over 40 compounds that have a known pharmacological effect on the human heart. This suggests that further development and validation of the hPSC-cardiomyocyte model as a tool for assessing cardiotoxicity is warranted.

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