After years of trial, Britain’s University of Manchester may have found a way to fix the heart muscle following a cardiac arrest by injecting stem cells safely and directly into the heart, allowing them to repair the damage.
Thanks to modern medical advancements, more people than ever are able to survive heart attacks, but they are still left weakened after the event.
Until now there has been no way for a patient’s heart to completely recover. This means that despite the ability to recuperate from the heart attack itself and go back to something that more closely resembles their prior lives, the patient would remain medically vulnerable to a host of possible complications.
The University of Manchester research team has created a medical gel that effectively acts as a scaffolding, holding these cells in place, during the repair process.
“The potential this new technology has in helping to repair failing hearts after a heart attack is huge,” said Katharine King, lead researcher at the university. The team’s research was funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
At least one person every five minutes in the United Kingdom is treated at a hospital for a heart attack. This equates to more than 100,000 hospital admissions every year for significant cardiac-related emergencies.
To prove the technology could work, researchers needed to demonstrate the gel could support growth of normal heart muscle tissue. When they added stem cells into the gel, they found that these cells were able to independently replicate and grow in a lab for three weeks without a human host.
After the three weeks, the cells began to spontaneously beat, much like a human heart does, but inside the dish.
The gel was then tested on mice. Through multiple echocardiogram and electrocardiogram (EKG) tests, the gel was proven to be safe.
Researchers are now advancing to the next stages of testing on mice after they have already experienced a heart attack. The scientists want to look at how the gel works when the cells are trying to create new tissue on an actual moving and beating heart.