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Scientists find that heart muscle cells regenerate after a heart attack

Challenging one of medicines long-standing beliefs, a team of scientists funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has found the strongest evidence to date that human heart muscle cells regenerate after a heart attack. In a paper published in the June 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists from New York Medical College in Valhalla, NY report their success in finding large scale replication of heart muscle cells in two regions of the heart, and in identifying several other key indicators of cell regeneration.

" It has long been assumed that when the heart is damaged such as after a heart attack heart muscle cells do not regenerate and the damage is permanent. This assumption has been challenged in recent years by evidence that heart muscle cells may in fact regenerate. Now, this latest research provides the most dramatic and clear-cut demonstration to date of heart cell regeneration after cardiac injury," says Claude Lenfant, M.D., director of the NHLBI, a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"With this landmark study, we have a new understanding of the heart that opens up the possibility of repairing heart muscle damage after a heart attack," he adds.

"This finding, if confirmed, may begin to clarify how hearts respond to the normal insults of aging through previously undetected repair mechanisms," says David Finkelstein, Ph.D., director of basic cardiovascular research at the NIA.

Piero Anversa, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute, and colleagues, studied myocytes (heart muscle cells) from the hearts of 13 patients, 4 to 12 days after their heart attacks, and from the hearts of 10 patients who did not have cardiovascular disease. Samples were obtained from the border zone near the site of the heart attack and from a more distant site from the damaged tissue.

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Contact: NHLBI Communications Office
301-496-4236
NIH/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
6-Jun-2001


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