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Scientists ‘one step closer’ to mending a broken heart

Stem cells could lead to a “desperately-needed” new treatment for heart failure, which affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.

Scientists hope the research could lead to new treatments (PA)
Scientists hope the research could lead to new treatments (PA)

Scientists believe they are one step closer to mending a broken heart by using stem cells to help repair damaged tissue.

A combination of stem and heart cells could help areas damaged by a heart attack recover – avoiding the need for a whole organ transplant, new research suggests.

This could lead to “desperately-needed” new treatment for heart failure in the future, the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the study, hopes.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and University of Washington used 3D human heart tissue grown in the lab to test the combination of heart muscle cells and supportive cells taken from the outer layer of the heart wall, the epicardium.

They found the epicardial cells helped the heart muscle cells grow and improved their ability to contract and relax.

In rats with damaged hearts, the combination allowed the transplanted cells to survive and restore lost heart muscle and blood vessel cells.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are living with debilitating heart failure.

When it comes to mending broken hearts, stem cells haven’t yet really lived up to their early promise - we hope this... represents the turning of the tide in the use of these remarkable cells Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation

During a heart attack, part of the heart does not get oxygen which causes the death of the muscle.

Patients cannot regenerate the muscle and instead require a heart transplant.

The researchers hope they will one day be able to use the patient’s own cells to help heal the damaged tissue, calling the cells a “promising tool to advance regenerative cardiovascular medicine”.

Dr Johannes Bargehr, first author of the study at the University of Cambridge, said: “Our research shows the huge potential of stem cells for one day becoming the first therapy for heart failure.

“Although we still have some way to go, we believe we’re one giant step closer, and that’s incredibly exciting.”

Scientists have struggled over the years to use stem cells to repair damaged hearts because the majority of transplanted cells die soon after.

Current treatment for heart failure is limited to improving symptoms and slowing the disease’s natural progression.

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Despite advances in medical treatments, survival rates for heart failure remain poor and life expectancy is worse than for many cancers. Breakthroughs are desperately needed to ease the devastation caused by this dreadful condition.

“When it comes to mending broken hearts, stem cells haven’t yet really lived up to their early promise.

“We hope that this latest research represents the turning of the tide in the use of these remarkable cells.”

PA

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