Los Angeles: A new technique, in which a gene cocktail, has been successfully to create beating heart cells, has been used on mice.
The new technique could also cut the need for transplants in people whose ailing hearts cannot mend themselves.
The experiments, which were carried out on mice, are still in the early stages, but they offer fresh hope for the future.
They centre on the large muscular cells that allow the heart to beat and go about its vital work of pumping blood. Normally, the body has little or no way of replacing any that die or are damaged.
But researchers at the California’s Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, have devised a cocktail of genes that trick other heart cells called fibroblasts into transforming into beating muscle cells called cardiomyocytes.
The journal Cell reports how fibroblasts treated with the cocktail in the lab turned into beating muscle cells after being transplanted into a mouse.
Masaki Ieda of the Gladstone Institute said: “Scientists have tried for 20 years to convert non-muscle cells into heart muscle. It turns out we just needed the right combination of genes in the right dose.”
Deepak Srivastava, senior study author from Gladstone, said: “The ability to re-programme fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes has many therapeutic implications.
“Half of the cells in the heart are fibroblasts, so the ability to call upon this reservoir of cells already in the organ to become beating heart cells has tremendous promise for cardiac regeneration.”
In time a drug that works in the same way as the cocktail of genes could be developed. Injected into damaged hearts, it would drive the growth of new muscle.
“That’s our long-term goal,” said Srivastava.
Every two minutes, someone, somewhere has a heart attack. Many go on to develop heart failure, in which the weakened heart gradually loses its ability to pump blood.
Up to 40 per cent of these die within a year of diagnosis – giving heart failure a worse survival rate than many cancers.
Other organs could be patched up in a similar way, the researchers believe.