Medical

Protein patch restores heart tissue and function after a heart attack

A protein patch has been shown to regenerate heart tissue in animals (Credit: Shutterstock)
A protein patch has been shown to regenerate heart tissue in animals (Credit: Shutterstock)
View 4 Images
New heart muscle cells (green with yellow nuclei) grow in the damaged region of a mouse heart treated by the patch loaded with FSTL1
1/4
New heart muscle cells (green with yellow nuclei) grow in the damaged region of a mouse heart treated by the patch loaded with FSTL1
A 3D rendering of the left ventricle of a pig's heart. The muscle (seen in red) increased following the application of the patch, while scarring (seen in blue) decreased
2/4
A 3D rendering of the left ventricle of a pig's heart. The muscle (seen in red) increased following the application of the patch, while scarring (seen in blue) decreased
A 3D rendering of the left ventricle of a pig's heart. The muscle (seen in red) increased following the application of the patch, while scarring (seen in blue) decreased
3/4
A 3D rendering of the left ventricle of a pig's heart. The muscle (seen in red) increased following the application of the patch, while scarring (seen in blue) decreased
A protein patch has been shown to regenerate heart tissue in animals (Credit: Shutterstock)
4/4
A protein patch has been shown to regenerate heart tissue in animals (Credit: Shutterstock)

Though sufferers of heart attacks may survive the initial event, they cause permanent damage to the organ in the form of scar tissue, which affects its ability to pump blood. Scientists around the world are working on this problem, with hydrogels, human stem cells and even bioengineered tissue that sticks together like Velcro all offering possible solutions. But the latest promising advance comes from a team of researchers that has developed a simple protein patch that restores animal hearts almost to normal function.

The team's work was guided by earlier research indicating that the outside layer of the heart, called the epicardium, may be responsible for producing the compounds that regenerate heart muscle in fish. The effort was led by Professor Pilar Ruiz-Lozano at Stanford University and involved scientists from the University of California, San Diego.

In studying the epicardial cells themselves, the team was able to demonstrate that they did indeed cause existing heart muscle cells, called cardiomyocytes, to multiply. But the team then sought to narrow things down even further and determine whether a single compound might be driving the process. Using mass spectrometry, the team uncovered more than 300 proteins as possible candidates, and eventually whittled this down to one using high-throughput assays.

Once the researchers identified Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1) as the protein they had been searching for, they then went on to develop a therapeutic patch made from collagen that incorporated this compound. The patch was designed to have the same elasticity as fetal heart tissue and gradually release the protein over time. It was applied to the surface of mouse and pig hearts that had suffered from attacks and was found to drive tissue regeneration.

In pigs that had suffered from a heart attack, blood pumped out of the left ventricle was reduced from the normal 50 percent to 30 percent. But surgically applying the patch on the surface of the heart a week after the event saw this restored to 40 percent, where it remained stable. The patch was also found to considerably reduce scarring of the pig's heart tissue.

The team hopes to move to human clinical trials as soon as 2017.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Source: University of California, San Diego

3 comments
dsiple
I wonder, though, how they make a pig have a heart attack.
Arf
Show it a plate of bacon ;-)
Bruce Johnson
@ dsiple : "I wonder, though, how they make a pig have a heart attack." They thread a catheter through the femoral artery into one of the coronary arteries, then blow up a small balloon blocking blood flow to whatever area of the heart they wish...Instant heart attack.
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.