By Susan E. Matthews
Those lucky enough to have survived a heart attack often face an uphill battle — the trauma associated with the attack can often kill enough heart cells to leave survivors much weaker than before. But with a new personalized genetic approach, researchers may have found a way to reinvigorate the damaged cells, and even get them beating again./p>
Researchers from the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco found that injecting a therapy of genes into dead heart cells has promising implications for restarting the cells, based on studies done in mice and human cells in a lab. After receiving this therapy, most cells showed some signs of transformation, and 20 percent of them were up and working again, according to the study, published in Stem Cell Reports.
The research builds on the Gladstone team’s previous work that successfully reinvigorated dead heart cells in mice through an injection of three genes, called GMT. In the latest study, the researchers used a new cocktail of five genes — GMT with MYOCD and ZFPM2 — and successfully reprogrammed damaged human cells.
The concept behind the approach is sound, but the current efficiency levels are low, warranting more research, said Konstantinos Malliaras, MD, assistant professor at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.
The researchers are targeting the heart’s fibroblasts, a specific type of scar-forming cell that makes up 50 percent of the human heart. The results are preliminary, and researchers noted that they still have some work to do to perfect the cocktail and test the process in larger animals.
“Success rates might be improved by transforming the fibroblasts within living hearts rather than in a dish — something we also observed during our initial experiments in mice,” said Deepak Srivastava, MD, director of Gladstone cardiovascular and stem cell research. However, the researchers also noted that “it takes longer to reprogram human cells than mouse cells, and the process remains inefficient.”
Unlike some organs, such as the liver, the heart cannot regenerate quickly. The study out today represents one of three approaches currently explored as possible ways to regenerate the heart.
A recent study in Nature Communications showed the initial steps toward creating an entirely new heart that could start beating. And two pilot clinical trials have actually taken stem cells from a human patient to grow into heart tissue that will be infused back into the body. A 2011 clinical trial published in the Lancet showed that this process reduced scar tissue in 17 patients who had experienced severe heart failure by 30 to 47 percent.
“General heart disease is predicted to remain the number one cause of death for the next 20 years,” said Dr. Malliaras, who worked on the 2011 clinical trial. Whichever approach exhibits the highest safety profile and is most efficient will start to go forward to be used in patients in the future, Malliaras said.
"New Gene Therapy May Help Heart Attack Survivors" originally appeared on Everyday Health.