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Will we ever... be able to heal damaged hearts?

20 May 2013, by Ed Yong, BBC ews !ealth


"#ientists ho$e they #an re$air the harm #a%sed by a heart atta#& witho%t having to
re$la#e the organ. B%t it's $roving to be a (r%strating tas&.
)he $roblem with bro&en hearts is that they *%st &ee$ brea&ing. While organs li&e yo%r
liver or s&in e+#el at regenerating themselves a(ter in*%ries, the heart is the #lass d%n#e. ,(
its m%s#le #ells, or #ardiomyo#ytes, die d%ring a heart atta#&, they are re$la#ed by s#ar
tiss%e rather than (resh m%s#le. )his tem$orarily s%$$orts the damaged tiss%e b%t in the
long term, it wea&ens the heart and in#reases the ris& o( more heart atta#&s. ,t's no
wonder that heart disease is the leading #a%se o( death worldwide. By 2030, it's estimated
that (ailing hearts will &ill more than 23 million $eo$le every year.
-or now, the only way to sto$ the downward s$iral o( a damaged heart is to re$la#e it.
B%t donor hearts are so rare that only a (ew tho%sand trans$lants are #arried o%t every
year, and the l%#&y re#i$ients still (a#e a red%#ed li(e e+$e#tan#y (%ll o( to+i# dr%gs that
s%$$ress their imm%ne systems.
"in#e the early 2000s, s#ientists have been trying to %se stem #ells (rom a $erson's own
body to $ers%ade their hearts to grow new m%s#le. "tem #ells #an $rod%#e all o( the
vario%s ty$es o( #ell in the body, and the ho$e was that they'd generate new
#ardiomyo#ytes i( in*e#ted into an ailing heart.
)hat o$timism was (%elled by a st%dy $%blished in at%re in 2001, whi#h showed that
stem #ells (rom the bone marrow o( mi#e #o%ld e((i#iently $rod%#e new m%s#le when
in*e#ted into the rodents' damaged hearts. )hose res%lts were re(%ted three years later b%t,
by then, many #lini#al trials were already %nderway. .o/ens have sin#e been done, %sing
stem #ells ta&en mostly (rom bone marrow, b%t also s&eletal m%s#les and other so%r#es.