Our heart could heal itself with new stem-cell treatment breakthrough
Scientists have come up with a way to trigger the heart to heal itself after an attack, minimising the risk of future failure.
A team at the University College London (UCL) injected a common protein in to test mice, and found it prompted the outer-layer of the heart, called the epicardium, to replace damaged vascular and muscle tissue.
Deputy Director of the Victor Chang Research Institute, Professor Richard Harvey, said the new treatment has the potential to prevent, or delay the onset of heart failure, a common consequence of heart attack.
“(Humans) are very bad at completely healing our heart,” Professor Harvey said.
“The heart has a number of mechanisms whereby it is trying very, very hard to replace dead tissue but it is a very hostile cellular environment, a lot of dead cells, so it doesn’t do it perfectly.”
The epicardium is a stem-like cell that for a long time scientists thought was inert, Professor Harvey said.
The British scientists have identified its potential for a self-healing heart, he said.
Previous studies have shown there are one or more stem-cell populations living in the heart, he said.
“The focus has clearly been on growing those cells in a dish and putting them back in to the heart in what’s called a cell therapy approach to repair.
“The difference with this paper is that the focus is not cell therapy, it’s on stimulating the heart’s own ability to repair itself via it’s own stem cells.”
Professor Harvey said the delivery of the treatment would be “relatively easy” and could have considerable benefits for humans in the next decade.
Lead researcher, Professor Paul Riley from UCL, said the treatment could be used as a preventative.
“I could envisage a patient known to be at risk of heart attack – either because of family history or warning signs spotted by their GP – taking an oral tablet … which would prime their heart so that if they had a heart attack, the damage could be repaired,” Professor Riley said.
The research, released today, was funded by the British Heart Foundation.
Meanwhile, Australian researchers have found a product, made of donated adult stem-cells, can increase blood supply to damaged heart muscle.
Melbourne-based company, Mesoblast, today said they’d successfully tested the product on 60 heart attack patients in the US.
Mesoblast chief executive, Professor Silviu Itescu, told a conference in California, they’d seen significant improvements in blood flow to the heart six months after a single injection of Revascor.
The findings could lead to a reduction in long-term cardiac events including deaths, heart attacks and heart failure, Professor Itescu said.
Mesoblast now hope to trial the off-the-shelf product on 225 heart attack patients across Australia Europe and the US.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, affecting more than 3.4 million Australians, according to the national Heart Foundation.