Heart Illness is one of the leading causes of unnatural death in the modern world. Some people die directly from heart attacks, while others have to suffer through the after effects & weakness before finally succumbing to the illness. While there has been a lot of research in the field of preventing / treating Heart Attacks, there hasn’t been much work done when it comes to treating the damage left behind by heart attacks.
The problem is that, even if a heart attack victim might recover from the event, their heart often ends up scarred. This scarring, rather than being superficial like on the skin, affects the Heart Muscles which can make the heart pump less effectively or even cause it to fail.
A team of researchers, led by Professor Pilar Ruiz-Lozano at Stanford University along with researchers from the University of California, San Diego & Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have been working on this very problem for quite some time now, & if their September 16th submission in “Nature” is to be believed, they have found a solution too.
According to the article, the researchers have found a protein that can help heart muscle cells regenerate after a heart attack. They have even successfully tested their theories on mice & pigs. They have done this by loading a Collagen Patch with the protein and placing it inside the heart.
This special protein being mentioned here is called Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1). Scientists used a mass spectrometer to identify over 300 proteins in the Epicardium before they found it. The collagen gave the patch the flexibility of fetal heart tissue, which means that the body would not reject the implant, removing the need to give the patient immunosuppressive drugs. It essentially gave the patch the ability to become part of the body itself.
They found that the patch improved the growth of healthy cells and even blood vessels, helping supply the new tissue with oxygen and nutrients. The results of this experiment clearly showed improved cardiac function and survival rates after a heart attack.
To understand the actual effect of this patch we must take the example of the test pig. The researchers saw that, after a heart attack, the fraction of blood pumped out of the left ventricle dropped from the normal 50 percent to 30 percent. But once they placed the patch over the pig’s heart, the function was restored to 40 percent a week after the surgery & remained stable.
Following this treatment, the animal hearts regained close to normal function within four to eight weeks. If this rate of improvement holds up, it might be possible to test the patch in Human Clinical Trials as early as 2017. This is exciting news for countless people suffering from heart problems across the globe.