Breakthrough offers hope for heart failure
Our researchers have re-awakened a dormant
built-in repair mechanism in the heart.
Whilst treatments based on this discovery are still some years
away, it takes us a step closer to being able to repair the damage
to heart muscle caused by a heart attack.
About the research
Our scientists have created new heart muscle cells (red) that can join up with existing heart muscle (green).
Scientists at University
College London have managed to transform special cells from the
outer layer of the heart – called the epicardium
into heart muscle cells, in mice. These cells moved into the heart
and integrated with existing healthy muscle.
We’ve known for a while that these special epicardial cells can
transform into heart muscle while the heart develops in the embryo,
however this ability is normally dormant in the adult
heart. Our scientists have found this ability could be
reactivated in mice using a chemical called
tβ4 (thymosin β4).
They discovered that a course of tβ4 seemed to prepare the heart
muscle to repair itself. Then when injury to the heart occurred,
the epicardium could launch into action and carry out the repair –
this significantly restored the heart’s ability to pump blood.
Applying the science
So, how might this translate into treatments for people with
heart disease? Well, it still needs more research but lead
scientist Professor Paul Riley speculated how
their findings might make it into the clinic:
This groundbreaking study shows adult hearts contain cells that can turn into new heart cells
“I could envisage a
patient known to be at risk of a 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
Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy
“To repair a damaged heart is one of the holy grails of heart
research. This groundbreaking study shows that adult hearts contain
cells that, given the right stimulus, can mobilise and turn into
new heart cells that might repair a damaged heart. The team have
identified the crucial signals needed to make this happen.”
“These results strengthen the evidence that in the future there
may be a drug, or cocktail of drugs, that could be given to people
whose hearts have been damaged by a heart attack, to prevent the
onset of heart failure. This is why we have launched our
Mending Broken Hearts appeal to raise
money for research to turn this vision into reality for heart
patients as quickly as possible.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature.