English: Medical X-rays Congestive heart failure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Heart attack and heart failure are major causes of death and disability around the world. And although when we are brand new babies, our hearts can regenerate themselves–just like our blood and skin do throughout our lives–but once we’re past infancy, this ability to automatically regenerate new heart cells disappears. That’s why the only “cure” for advanced heart failure is a heart transplant.
Now a team of Australian and Israeli researchers at the Sydney Victor Change Cardiac Research Institute and the Weizmann Institute of Science has proven a method of getting murine (mouse) heart cells (cardiomyocytes) to recharge their ability to regrow. Invoking the neonatal process, researchers developed a strategy for administering Neuregulin-1 (NRG1) and inducing co-receptor ERGG2 expression, thereby encouraging hypertrophy, then dedifferentiation and growth of the mouse heart cells. Although it’s still early days and much more research is needed, this study is extremely promising for future sufferers of heart attack and heart failure.
If they can get mice hearts to regrow their damaged cells, it’s highly likely that one day they’ll be able to get ours to do the same. Too bad most of us won’t be around for it.
Interactions of nanoparticles with biological molecules are facilitated by ligands on nanoparticle surfaces. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wouldn’t it be nice if doctors didn’t have to use invasive tests such as heart catheterization to tell if any of your arteries are clogged? Heart caths are not fun – and they carry their own set of risks.
I’m happy to say they’re working on it. Just saw this report on an NIH-funded study using nanoparticles as part of a contrast agent to help doctors visualize the state of your blood vessels much more accurately. A Temple University bioengineer has developed a method for “linking polyphenols, which are very strong antioxidants, to polymers that can self-assemble into nanoparticles.”
The coolest part is that the polymers on the outside get destroyed when they come in contact with arterial plaques (the stuff that can block circulation and cause strokes or heart attacks). Then the contrast agent, including its antioxidants, is released when the polymers dissolve.
The study is two years long. If this works, it could save a lot of people a lot of suffering. Read more here.
P.S. Not biomed but still cool. Engineers have found a way to recycle those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags into practical nanomaterials.
Heart Failure causes more damage than you think (Photo credit: Novartis AG)
Both Canada and the UK have recently begun large-scale human trials to test how well new approaches using stem cells and gene therapy will work for treating damage in human hearts.
The idea of the Canadian study is that a patient’s own stem cells are the most direct and effective way to repair damage and rebuild function in the heart. But because the stem cells from a damaged heart are not working up to normal capacity, scientists tested and found that adding extra copies of a gene that “stimulates blood vessel growth and improves tissue healing, known as endothelial nitric oxide synthase,” improves that function.
In other words, the gene stimulates the patient’s stem cells to reproduce more quickly and do their magic to help the heart heal itself. The Canadian trial is for post-heart-attack patients.The UK trial will be using a carrier virus to insert a gene into heart failure patients to help their hearts pump better.
Nothing but good news here – except that it will be two and three years before results are in. Stay tuned.
It’s a long way off from availability, but isn’t it nice to know that some researchers who were looking for something else entirely – isn’t that how half our best discoveries are made? – have found a molecule that might be able to tell us with a simple blood test if we’ve got coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is responsible for heart attacks and strokes and is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to an article in MedNewsToday.com.
Up til now, most people have no idea they have CAD (also known as atherosclerosis and, to many folks, just plain old heart disease) until they have a heart attack. Many felt fine and noticed no warning symptoms. Then suddenly, they’re in the hospital and terrified.
Researchers noticed the molecule – malondialdehyde-acetaldehyde (MAA) – because it showed up where there was inflammation while they were investigating arthritis and liver disease.
While a blood test isn’t totally non-invasive, it’s a darn sight less so than nasty tests like angiograms and catheterizations. So here’s hoping they can hurry this research along. Once it’s developed, people will know ahead of time that they have to make diet and lifestyle changes to avoid a heart attack.
But I guess we already hear that all the time, and yet it doesn’t hit home to many. Maybe this test will come to serve as a less drastic wake-up call.