How do you mend a broken heart?

How do you mend a broken heart?

Scientists are trying to mend broken hearts

Heart disease is a massive health problem. In the UK, 125,000 people suffer a heart attack each year. Of these, over 5% will die within 30 days.

What causes heart disease?

Human hearts are a powerful muscle, beating around three billion times over a lifetime. Heart attacks happen when an artery becomes blocked. Blood, oxygen and nutrients can't get to part of the heart, causing some of the heart muscle to die. Without as much heart muscle, the heart can't beat as powerfully.


Your heart is a powerful muscle

How can we mend a broken heart?

One of the major barriers to curing human heart disease is that damaged heart tissue doesn't have the ability to repair itself. Scientists are working on ways to solve this problem.

Protein power

Researchers say that they may have developed a pill which persuades heart tissue to repair itself after a heart attack.

Thymosin beta 4 is a type of protein that scientists are looking at. It persuades stem cells in the heart to produce heart cells. Stem cells are a special type of cell that can turn into lots of different cell types, but in adults stem cells are generally switched off. Encouraging stem cells to make heart cells will help to repair the heart muscle and allow the heart to pump powerfully again.


Scientists are investigating a protein that could help make new heart tissue

So far this technique has only been tested on mice, but trials in humans are due to begin over the next few years.

If the human trials are successful, pills containing thymosin beta 4 could be given to patients at risk of a heart attack. If these patients suffered a heart attack, stem cells in the heart would be prepared to repair muscle tissue.

Spray-on heart

Another possibility for curing heart disease is a "spray-on heart". Researchers have discovered that they can spray different types of heart cells onto a protein scaffold. The cells stick on the protein scaffold and grow to form small sections of heart tissue. Eventually, researchers want to create sheets of heart tissue big enough to repair a damaged heart.

As with thymosin beta 4, more trials are needed to make sure the technique is safe to use in humans.

Will scientists one day solve the problem of how to mend a broken heart? Their recent ground-breaking work has made a promising start.

Try our heart quiz and find out how much you know about your heart.

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