Heart muscle can be regenerated to prevent organ failure and a treatment may be available in a few years, new research suggests.
After a heart attack, immune cells are sent to the organ to clear up dead and dying cells, however, this can worsen inflammation, leading to organ failure.
Injecting a protein, known as VEGF-C, after heart attacks significantly reduces the amount of damaged heart muscle and allows the organ to almost pump as normal in mice, an Oxford University study found today.
VEGF-C promotes the growth of lymphatic vessels that allow immune cells to clear up damage before they can cause inflammation.
More than 1.6 million men and one million women in the UK are living with heart disease. The condition causes one in every four deaths in the US.
Heart muscle can be regenerated to prevent organ failure, new research suggests (stock)
DO WALNUTS PREVENT HEART DISEASE AND BOWEL CANCER?
A handful of walnuts a day may prevent heart disease and bowel cancer, research suggested in May 2018.
Eating just a third of a cup of walnuts for six weeks significantly reduces the production of excess bile acids, as well as lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, a study found.
Previous research has linked such bile acids to bowel cancer, while lower cholesterol levels are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Researchers believe walnuts’ high-fibre content encourages the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which benefits people’s heart and colon health.
The scientists also found that despite walnuts being relatively high in calories, with around 28 per nut, only 80 per cent of them are absorbed, with gut bacteria using up the remaining 20 per cent.
Results further suggest people who eat a handful of walnuts a day produce less secondary bile acids, which are made in the bowel rather than the liver like their primary counterparts.
Lead author Professor Hannah Holscher, from the University of Illinois, said: ‘Secondary bile acids have been shown to be higher in individuals with higher rates of colorectal cancer.
‘Secondary bile acids can be damaging to cells within the GI tract and microbes make those secondary bile acids.
‘If we can reduce secondary bile acids in the gut, it may also help with human health.’
Treatment could be available in just five years
Results further suggest mice not treated with VEGF-C lose almost half their hearts’ function after an attack.
An inability to clear away immune cells after such an event causes muscle scarring, which impairs the organ’s pumping and causes it to change shape.
Researchers believe removing the initial immune cells that flock to an injured area may allow others cells in that encourage hearts to repair.
Lead author Professor Paul Riley said: ‘We started looking at the lymphatic system in the heart a few years ago – we could never have known how pivotal it might turn out to be for heart repair.
‘We now know that it’s not enough to just get healing immune cells into the heart.
‘We need to boost the routes that remove these immune cells once they’ve done their job, so that they don’t start causing more harm and ultimately contribute to the long-term damage that leads to heart failure.’
Further research will analyse the ideal balance of immune cells after a heart attack that allows initial repair but does not lead to inflammation and ultimate organ failure.
Professor Riley added: ‘We hope to get a treatment we could give to people after a heart attack within five-to-10 years.’
The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
‘Heart regeneration is the “holy grail” of heart research’
Professor Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: ‘Someone goes to hospital with a heart attack every three minutes in the UK.
‘Their hearts will have been starved of oxygen, which is why we urgently need to better understand the damage caused when this happens, and how we can repair it.
‘Heart regeneration is the “holy grail” of heart research. By building on their previous work, the team’s new findings bring us one step closer to understanding how to turn this into a reality.
‘Exploiting the lymphatic system opens up new opportunities to find treatments that will limit the damage caused by a heart attack and promote regeneration.
‘It’s only by funding important research such as this that we can hope to one day end heart failure.’