A simple protein patch could heal damage caused by heart attacks

Stanford researchers have created a simple patch that could regenerate damaged heart tissue in as little as two weeks after a heart attack.

Researchers from Stanford University have created a “protein patch” that was shown to reverse damage to pig and mouse hearts caused by heart attacks. According to a report from Medical News Today, the patch may be available for human clinical trials as soon as 2017.

When a person suffers from a heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, the cardiomyocytes, or heart muscle cells are damaged and destroyed by the absence of oxygen caused by reduced blood flow. In many mammals, the heart tissue has a hard time healing after a heart attack, which can result in nasty scar tissue.

There is currently no viable treatment for repairing damage to heart tissues following a myocardial infarction, leaving as many as 735,000 Americans with no option but to live with the damage. Scar and damaged heart tissue can lead to complications including arrhythmias, or an abnormal heart beat, and even heart failure.

To deal with this issue, Professor Pilar Ruiz-Lozano looked toward the zebrafish, a species that can regenerate its own heart cells using a special layer of cells in the heart called the epicardium, which release over 300 proteins that trigger the replication of cardiomyocytes.

The research team singled out a protein called Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1) in the epicardial tissue that helped heart cells begin to replicate. This protein levels off following a heart attack, which explains why humans have such a hard time repairing damaged heart cells.

By applying the protein to a patch and attaching it to the heart, cells began to regenerate quickly. The team found that the protein triggered the replication of existing muscle cells that led to the growth of new blood vessels within 4 weeks. The patch improved the heart function of each animal that wore it, even directly following a heart attack.

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