Researchers repair and regenerate heart muscles

Researchers at the University of Houston have developed a new technology that can repair and regenerate the cells in heart muscles after a heart attack. While heart cells are extremely unlikely to repair themselves, this study has had success when testing on mice.

The new technology uses synthetic messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) that instructs proteins to restart the process of cell replication in the heart of mice.  This will lead to the replacement of dead heart cells, which are unlikely to be regenerated, with new healthy ones. Since less than one percent of adult cardiac muscle cells can regenerate, injuries such as heart attacks can leave the heart in a permanently weakened state.

According to Robert Schwartz, Professor at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Houston in Texas, this regeneration technique can restart the process of cell replication and “replace the dead heart cells with new, healthy tissue to restore the function of the heart.”

Two mutated transcription factors, Stemin and YAP5SA, were used in tandem to make heart muscle cells behave more like stem cells in the way they replicate. Stemin activates stem cell-like properties in the heart muscles, whereas YAP5SA boosts organ growth and helps with replication. Furthermore, the synthetic mRNA does not linger too long in the body, and it disappears quickly as it is broken down by the body once its job is done.

In a separate in vivo study by the same team of researchers, it was found that mice with damaged hearts showed muscle cell replication increase by 15 times in the first 24 hours. “When both transcription factors were injected into infarcted adult mouse hearts, the results were stunning,” says Schwartz.

While it has only been tested on mice so far, it is still not clear if the process will also work on humans. Still, the researchers are confident because the genetic pathways that are activated by our mRNA combination are very similar in all mammals. Schwartz stated that “no one has been able to do this to this extent, and we think it could become a possible treatment for humans.”

With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, this treatment could be a lifesaver for those suffering from damaged heart muscles. The researchers have worked on this study to repair and regenerate heart muscles for several years, and now they will continue working on a possible solution to successfully translate this technology from mice to humans.

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