University College London scientists have discovered a natural embryo molecule can awaken dormant repair cells in adult hearts and could form the basis of a drug that helps destroyed heart muscle to be rebuilt after a heart attack, The Scotsman reported Thursday.
Tests on mice showed it was possible to improve the pumping efficiency of damaged hearts by 25 percent, and even just half that level of improvement could transform the lives of millions of people suffering heart attacks, the newspaper said.
Until recently, experts believed the heart was inherently irreparable and once damaged stayed damaged.
Research on the changes that occur in embryos developing in the womb led researchers to rethink that, as they discovered stem cells that build the heart in the growing embryo are also present in adults, but dormant.
The breakthrough discovery was that a protein building block called thymosin beta 4, which is normally active in the embryo, could "re-awaken" the adult stem cells.
"Even five years ago, people would have said this is science fiction, science fantasy," said Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research.
At a "conservative" estimate, researchers said, they believe a practical treatment could be available in 10 years.
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