Heart attacks provoke bad functionong of cells and even stop their beating, thus leading to tissue damage, but likely, scientists believe the damage may be fixed.
Using a combination of five genes researchers managed to coax the scar-forming cells into an almost perfect healthy state, making cells beating.
The Gladstone Institutes in America’s researchers, who had conducted the study, had already applied their theory on mice but have taken a step further by doing the same to human heart cells in a laboratory, reports The Telegraph.
The study is a “proof of concept” that the scar-forming cells, known as fibroblasts, “can be reprogrammed successfully into beating heart cells,” and mend the heart from within, the scientists believe.
Dr Deepak Srivastava, the head of the research group, explained to reporters: “Fibroblasts make up about 50 per cent of all cells in the heart and therefore make up a vast pool of cells that could one day be harnessed and reprogrammed to create new muscle.”
He went on, adding: “We’ve now laid a solid foundation for developing a way to reverse the damage – something previously thought impossible – and changing the way that doctors may treat heart attacks in the future.”
By the way, first attempts to apply the technology to human heart tissue failed because initially the researchers used only three genes, but they were able to fix it by adding a further two genes to the mix.
Dr Ji-dong Fu, one of the authors of the study said: “While almost all the cells in our study exhibited at least a partial transformation, about 20 per cent of them were capable of transmitting electrical signals — a key feature of beating heart cells.”
“Success rates might be improved by transforming the fibroblasts within living hearts rather than in a dish – something we also observed during our initial experiments in mice.”
Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research represents a small but significant step forward. Last year these scientists had a real breakthrough when they turned fibroblasts – the cells that form scarred heart tissue – in the hearts of mice into beating heart cells, by injecting them with a ‘cocktail’ of different genes.”
“Now, using a different combination of genes, they have managed to turn human fibroblasts into beating heart cells in a culture dish. This process is still a long way from the clinic, but advances like this bring us closer to the likelihood that we could one day use these techniques to mend human hearts.”
Meanwhile, the researchers reveal their plans to test their method of fixing the damaged tissue in larger live mammals, for example, pigs, and eventually to develop a combination of drug-like chemicals which could achieve the same effect but would be safer and easier to administer.
According to the data, released by the British Heart Foundation, the number of people who are surviving heart attacks has increased dramatically over the past decade.
Up to 70 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in England are reported to live through the ordeal, compared with just a third of all cases in the 1970s.