DURHAM, N.C. -- Immature muscle cells transplanted from the leg of an animal to its heart apparently can "learn" to act like heart muscle, significantly boosting the ability of damaged hearts to contract, Duke researchers have found.
The researchers say it is a promising first step toward a simple transplant procedure that could augment current treatment for damaged hearts.
The experiments, reported in the August issue of the journal Nature Medicine, show that a tiny plug of muscle taken from an animal's leg and injected into the same animal's severely damaged heart muscle can boost contraction between 34 percent and 100 percent compared to non-treated animals.
"We were excited to see that in many of our test animals, contractions began to approach that of a normal animal," said Duke molecular biologist and heart researcher Doris Taylor. "In addition, when we examined the hearts of the treated animals, we found that their heart tissue was less stiff than if we had not treated the animals, meaning the heart could stretch better. The treated heart was not as rigid as a failing heart."
Taylor said her research team, which also included surgeons Dr. Donald Glower and Dr. Zane Atkins, cardiologist Dr. Willam Kraus, and researchers Pinata Hungspreugs, Thomas Jones, Mary Reedy, and Kelley Hutcheson, hopes to test the therapy by next year in patients with severe heart failure who are awaiting heart transplants. The research was funded in part by the American Heart Association and a grant from the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center.
The researchers said they hope eventually to combine their treatment
with existing therapies to prevent heart failure. They envision that when a
patient comes to the emergency room with a heart attack, doctors would remove a
small plug of cells from the leg and grow them in the laboratory for about two
weeks, long enough to assess damage to the heart and for the im
Contact: Karyn Hede George
Duke University Medical Center