Scar tissue left dead by heart attacks could be repaired after scientists demonstrated a new method of turning the tissue back into beating muscle in mice.
Researchers from the Gladstone Institutes in the US showed for the first time that injecting a combination of genes into the damaged heart tissue of a living animal could make it beat again.
Although the technique is a long way from being fit for human trials, experts said it could eventually lead to a way of repairing the debilitating damage sustained in heart attacks.
The results, published in the Nature journal, replicate previous test tube studies which suggested that the three genes, which normally guide the development of the heart in embryos, could reprogram non-beating cells into fully functional heart muscle.
Dr Deepak Srivastava, who led the study, said: “These findings could have a significant impact on heart-failure patients, whose damaged hearts make it difficult for them to engage in normal activities like walking up a flight of stairs.”
Prof Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, added: “This research illustrates one of many routes scientists are exploring to try and repair damage caused by a heart attack.
“If this is confirmed by further studies, it is a remarkable achievement. But a great deal more research will be needed before we will know whether such an approach is feasible, or indeed safe, in patients.”