After someone survives a heart attack, scar tissue hardens the cardiac muscle. This reduces its ability to contract, often leading to heart failure down the road. Although stem cell therapies that regenerate heart muscle cells have shown promise, for the moment the only solution is a heart transplant. Now, gene therapy has emerged as a potential solution. In mammalian foetuses a gene called CCNA2 drives the proliferation of heart muscle cells, but the gene – along with the promoter that switches it on – is dormant in adults. To change that, researchers used a deactivated virus to deliver a fresh version of CCNA2 and its promoter into pigs recovering from heart attacks. Pigs treated with the gene pumped more blood with each heartbeat and produced a greater number of new heart muscle cells (pictured) than controls. If it works as well in humans, the technique could improve recovery in heart attack victims.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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