Healthy living

Heart triggered to repair itself

Heart triggered to repair itself "Holy grail" of heart research

UK scientists have discovered a drug which can trigger a heart to repair itself.

Until now, it was thought that the damage that occurs to the heart during a heart attack was permanent and irreversible.

However, the latest findings suggest that the heart has dormant cells, which can be re-activated to repair damaged heart tissue.

The scientists at University College London already knew that progenitor cells in the outer layer of the heart were able to transform into other cell types, including heart muscle, in embryos.

However, it was thought that the ability to do this is lost in the adult heart.

The scientists treated the healthy hearts of mice with a chemical called thymosin ß4 (Tß4). The molecule appeared to "prime" the heart in advance for future heart repair.

When damage to the heart occurred, a booster dose of Tß4 was given, and the epicardium progenitor cells transformed into new heart muscle cells. These then integrated with existing heart muscle cells.

Professor Paul Riley at the Institute of Child Health, who led the study explained: “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, along the lines of a statin, which would prime their heart so that if they had a heart attack, the damage could be repaired.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the research, said: “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.”

The research team now plan to carry out further research to try to make Tß4 more effective and translate what they have found in mice into humans.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

This article was published on Thu 9 June 2011

Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki -

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