The scientists, teams of cardiologists and molecular biologists believed they have discovered a molecular mechanism which may unlock the heart's ability to regrow tissue after a myocardial infarct.
The researchers found studying how heart tissue regenerates in mice, found that microRNAs – tiny strands that regulate gene expression – contribute to the heart’s ability to regenerate up to one week after birth. Soon thereafter the heart loses the ability to regenerate. By determining the fundamental mechanisms that control the heart’s natural regenerative on-off switch, researchers have begun to better understand a major problem in treatment of cardiovascular diseases, which is the inability of the heart to regenerate following injury.
“For the first time since we began studying how cells respond to a heart attack, we now believe it is possible to activate a program of endogenous regeneration,” said Dr. Hesham Sadek, assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of cardiology, and the senior author of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Each year, nearly 1 million people in the United States have a heart attack, while about 600,000 die of cardiovascular disease annually. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is a fresh perspective on an age-old problem,” said Dr. Olson, director of the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Center for Basic Research in Cancer, and the Nearburg Family Center for Basic and Clinical Research in Pediatric Oncology who is a co-corresponding author of the PNAS study. “We’re encouraged by this initial finding because it provides us with a therapeutic opportunity to manipulate the heart’s regenerative potential.”
The news release stated that further research will be needed to optimize the ways in which medical scientists, and eventually clinicians, may be able to control this regenerative process.