King’s College London researchers are turning to the same technology behind the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to develop the first damage-reversing heart attack cure.
They used mRNA to deliver the genetic instructions for specific proteins to damaged pig hearts, sparking the growth of new cardiac muscle cells.
“The new cells would replace the dead ones and instead of forming a scar, the patient has new muscle tissue,” lead researcher Mauro Giacca told The Times of London.
Researchers are turning to the same technology behind Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines to develop the first damage-reversing heart attack cure.
Broken hearts: Diseases of the heart are the leading cause of death around the world; the WHO estimates that 17.9 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2019, representing almost a third of all deaths. Of those, 85% are ultimately killed by heart attacks and strokes.
Heart attacks occur when blood flow to parts of the heart is blocked, often due to fat or cholesterol build up. The cardiac muscle cells — marvelous little powerhouses that keep you beating throughout your entire life — are starved of oxygen and can be damaged or killed.
Left in its wake is not the smoothly pumping cardiac muscle, but instead scar tissue.
“We are all born with a set number of muscle cells in our heart and they are exactly the same ones we will die with. The heart has no capacity to repair itself after a heart attack,” Giacca told The Times.
At least, until now.
Kickstart my heart (cell regeneration): To develop their heart attack cure, the researchers turned to mRNA, which delivers the instructions for protein creation to cells.
Whereas the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instruct cells to make the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, priming the immune system against the virus, the same technology can deliver a potential heart attack cure by carrying the code for proteins that stimulate the growth of new heart cells, PharmaTimes reported.
In an experiment with pigs (a close match for the human heart), the mRNA treatment stimulated new heart cells to grow after a heart attack — regenerating the damaged tissues and creating new, functional muscle rather than a scar.
According to BioSpace, harnessing mRNA in this way has been dubbed “genetic tracking,” named for the way the mRNA’s progress is tracked via the new proteins it is creating. The technique is being explored to create vaccines for pathogens like HIV, Ebola, and malaria, as well as cancers and autoimmune and genetic diseases.
The researchers used mRNA to deliver the instructions for specific proteins to damaged pig hearts, sparking the growth of new heart muscle cells.
While thus far their heart attack cure has only been successfully tested in porcine pumpers, the team hopes to begin human clinical trials within the next couple years.
“Regenerating a damaged human heart has been a dream until a few years ago,” Giacca said, “but can now become a reality.”
Editor’s note: This article was edited on 5/2/22 to remove incorrect references to micro RNA.
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