Using cells from veins to mend broken hearts - Paolo Madeddu

a group of scientists

Why are broken hearts so difficult to mend?

Many heart attack survivors are left with permanently damaged hearts, leading to heart failure. This is what we call a broken heart and at the moment there is no cure. Hearts are difficult to mend as they are very complicated organs. 

Until now there has been very little progress in finding a therapy, but Paolo Madeddu, one of our researchers funded by the Mending Broken Hearts Appeal, is helping to change that. 

What makes Paolo's research different? 

Paolo’s research has led to the exciting discovery that a special type of cell in the veins of heart patients could help to mend a broken heart. 

Past research in animals has shown that damaged hearts could be repaired using stem cells, but when trialled in humans these therapies didn’t work. Researchers now think that this was because those cells were taken from bone-marrow. 

Instead, Paolo uses cells that come from veins. Along with his colleagues at the University of Bristol, he has perfected a technique to extract these cells, called pericyte progenitor cells, from pieces of vein that are not used in bypass surgery and grow them in a lab.

And are they successful in repairing damaged hearts?

Paolo has shown that, in mice, pericyte progenitor cells can encourage new blood vessels to grow and improve heart function. All indications are that if these cells are delivered directly into the heart, they could be an effective way to strengthen and restore hearts weakened after a heart attack.

But have they been trialled in people?

Before trialling the therapy in humans, they first have to test its safety and effectiveness. This calls for a larger animal with a similar sized heart and circulatory system to humans, meaning they are currently testing it in pigs. 

Paolo hopes that if the tests in pigs are successful, they will move on to human trials in the next year or so.  

What does this all mean for people with broken hearts? 

This is cutting edge research with huge potential to provide us with a new therapy. Although trials in humans are yet to be carried out, Paolo is hopeful that this research could, in the future, make mending broken hearts a reality.

We need your support

Stem cell techniques are getting closer to treatments thanks to your support, but we still have a long way to go. Donate to our Mending Broken Hearts appeal to keep the research going. 

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