AN injection could reverse the ravages of heart disease, effectively curing the condition.
The revolutionary technique could transform the lives of many thousands of people in Britain with ailing hearts.
Scientists have found a way to make hearts beat stronger and to even overcome the damage caused by previous heart attacks. The gene injection takes just 12 weeks to start working.
Hailed as “the next great thing”, the ground-breaking research is ready for testing in humans.
This means that it could be just a few years before it is used on heart attack and heart failure patients.
It could rejuvenate hearts, prolonging and vastly improving the quality of patients’ lives.
The new technique could also cut the need for heart transplants, with diseased hearts being able to mend themselves.
It works by raising levels of a calcium-controlling protein in the diseased heart muscle cell to normal. A gene – called S100A1 – makes the protein which is vital for regulating the heart’s contraction. Research has shown that, in heart failure patients, the protein is massively depleted.
In the new study, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, US, injected the gene into pigs with heart failure. Twelve weeks later, the protein created by S100A1 had improved their heart function.
The researchers, whose work is published in Science Translational Medicine, said that, while previous studies have shown similar results in rodents, using it on a large animal which is closer physically to humans shows it is likely to be safe to treat people.
Dr Walter Koch, director of the centre for translational medicine at the university, said: “It’s the next great thing in heart failure.”
About 750,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure and it is estimated that there are more than 27,000 new cases each year.
Many heart attack victims develop heart failure, in which the weakened heart gradually loses its ability to pump blood.
Treatment includes diuretics, which help to remove pools of excess fluid, as well as “beta-blocker” drugs. But these cannot restore normal heart function and more than half of patients who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This careful and successful study in pigs provides real hope that similar trials will soon be possible in patients.”