Scientists representing the Stanford University School of Medicine along with their colleagues have discovered a way of regenerating damaged heart muscles by delivering a protein to them by means of a bioengineered patch carrying a protein called Fstl1.

Pilar Ruiz-Lozano, who teaches pediatrics at Stanford, said that this finding will give birth to a revolutionary treatment. She added that right now there’s not a single effective treatment for reversing heart-attack induced scarring in heart. Ruiz-Lozano is the senior author of the study; the other experts to share the study’s authorship are University of California, San Diego’s postdoctoral scholar Ke Wei and Stanford’s postdoctoral scholar in cardiology Vahid Serpooshan.

When a person suffers a heart attack, his or her cardiomyocytes or cardiac muscle cells die due to lack of blood flow. It is extremely important to get those dead cells replaced for the blood pumping organ to recover fully. Unfortunately, hearts of adult mammals cannot regenerate effectively, as a result of which formation of scar tissues is pretty common.

Every year we see heart attacks resulting in millions of deaths globally. Experts are saying the number of heart attack-induced deaths will only increase in the coming decades; it is believed that by 2030, the number will become three times of what it’s now.

In the United States, the number of heart attacks taking place every year is somewhere around 735,000. A large share of the victims nowadays manages to survive the primary injury; doctors have made this possible only due to the improvement in the quality of early treatment.

However, the absence of a proper treatment for heart muscle regeneration still remains a big problem. Loss of cardiomyocytes might result in heart failure and eventually death of the patients.

Ruiz-Lozano informed that due to unavailability of any effective treatment many survivors suffer from a long, progressive course of heart failure and experience significant decline in their quality of life. In addition, they also need to pay hefty medical bills for staying alive.

To date, medical experts have tried several procedures of adding healthy muscle cells to damaged hearts, but none of them could produce good results consistently.

During this new study, researchers reintroduced the protein called Fstl1 into damaged epicardial tissues of pigs and mice, all of whom had a heart attack. The protein was reintroduced to the damaged tissues of the animals by means of a bioengineered patch filled with Fstl1. These special patches were made using a natural material called collagen, which was modified structurally for mimicking some mechanical characteristics of the epicardium.

The researchers found that after 2 to 4 weeks of receiving the protein patch, the heart muscle cells of the ailing animals started to proliferate. Also, the heart function of the animals also improved progressively.