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Fixing a broken heart with stem cells

Heart attacks damage important muscles but now scientists think that a special protein can awaken the stem cells that grow new muscles. Flickr

Vital heart muscles damaged during cardio arrest can be replaced by stem cells within the organ with the help of a special protein, scientists have discovered.

Heart attacks cause dangerous damage to muscle tissues within the organ called cardiomyocytes, which are unable to repair themselves.

Stem cells, called progenitors, exist in the heart but lie dormant in adults, so are usually no help when it comes to building new muscle.

However, a study published in Nature found that a tiny protein called Tβ4 injected into mice served to ‘wake up’ stem cells within the heart, which then went on to grow new muscle cells around injury sites.

“Derived cardiomyocytes are shown here to structurally and functionally integrate with resident muscle; as such, stimulation of this adult progenitor pool represents a significant step towards resident-cell-based therapy in human ischaemic heart disease,” the study said.

The main advantage of the new technique is that it negates the need to use stem cells from another part of the body, such as bone marrow, which risk being rejected or not integrating properly with the heart.

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