EDINBURGH, Scotland — Doctors are hoping to teach the heart to grow new blood vessels after an attack in a bid to prevent failure. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh aim to reduce the number of cells that die following a heart attack and promote regeneration in a bid to prevent further failure.
Researchers hope that identifying the changes in the genes in cells following an attack will lead to treatments that promote more blood vessel growth to salvage heart muscle. Dr. Mairi Brittan says the team seeks understand how to reduce the number of cells that are continuing to die after a patient suffers a heart attack.
Brittan, along with her team at the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, studies hearts of patients who have suffered an attack to evaluate cell response. “The main condition we’re trying to target is heart failure. This occurs when the heart isn’t able to pump blood around the body, and it most commonly occurs in patients who’ve had an earlier attack,” she says in a statement according to South West News Service. “The good news is that survival in patients who’ve had a heart attack is on the increase, but that does mean the number of patients who are going on to progress to develop heart failure is increasing.
“When you have a heart attack, there’s a massive immediate loss of cells and this cell death continues to die over time, leading to heart failure, which currently has no cure. Our research aims to understand how we can reduce the number of cells that are continuing to die,” she continues.
The project, which is funded by the British Heart Foundation with TCS London Marathon, will be published globally. It will allow researchers to study other individual genes and broaden the depth of understanding to what actually occurs in the cells in the heart during and after an attack. And it is hoped the study could lead to a number of different treatments under the umbrella of regenerative medicines.
“Once we publish this research, this is going to provide a resource for clinicians and it will show potential biomarkers which you could then study a little bit further and try to work out if these people are at risk of either having a heart attack or progressing to develop heart failure,” says Brittan. “Unlike some other tissues in the body, the adult human heart doesn’t have the potential to regenerate. So once you’ve had a heart attack, the damage will be there and you’ll be left with scarring and fibrosis.
“What we do know from some of the earlier studies is that some of these cells do switch on signals that show that they’re attempting to regenerate, they do respond to the injury, they do start to regrow. But the natural ability of the cells isn’t good enough to preserve the heart muscle, so it does continue to die,” she continues. “What we’re thinking is that if we can work out what these regenerative signals are and tap into how those signals are helpful for the heart, then that could provide a therapy.”
South West News Service writer Ellie Forbes contributed to this report.