FSTL1 is a protein that plays a fundamental role in reviving heart-muscle cells, according to researchers.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine managed to regenerate damaged heart tissue with the help of a protein that was placed in a collagen patch.
“This finding opens the door to a completely revolutionary treatment. There is currently no effective treatment to reverse the scarring in the heart after heart attacks,” said Pilar Ruiz-Lozano, an associate professor of paediatrics (cardiology) at Sanford University and senior author of the study.
During a heart attack the cardiomyocytes, also known as cardiac muscle cells, die because blood circulation to the heart stops. In order for the heart to fully recover, the dead cell must be replaced by new, functioning ones. The problem is that when the heart of an adult mammal regenerates it leaves a scar tissue.
Globally each year millions of people die from heart attacks and scientists predict that the number will triple by 2030. In the United Stated only, about 750,000 suffer a heart attack annually. Thanks to the modern technology in the medical field many of those victims are able to survive, but they are exposed to a major risk of heart failure due to loss of cardiomyocytes.
Previous studies suggested that epicardium plays a key role in regenerating the cardiac muscle cells, according to Ruiz-Lozano. Researchers found that the epicardium produced a protein called FSTL1 that helpes stimulate the regeneration of dead cardiac muscle cells in mammalian hearts. After the occurrence of a heart attack, the protein would be missing from the epicardial tissue, said scientists.
Using a bioengineered collagen patch, scientists reintroduced the protein into the damaged heart tissue of pigs and mice that had suffered a heart attack. The collagen in the patched was modified by scientists in order to resemble certain features of the epicardium.
The patches have acellular collagen, which means that they contain no cells whatsoever. The reason why scientists opted for the acellular collagen was because that way the body of the receiver would not reject the collagen patch. After a certain period of time, the collagen gets absorbed into the heart.
The animals started recovering two to four weeks after receiving the bioengineered collagen patch. The cardiac muscle cells increased in number thus making the heart recover its function. Ruiz-Lozano hopes that, in the future, patients who suffer serious heart damage due to heart attacks, will receive treatment by using a similar procedure.
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