Nanomaterial propels self-repair for damaged hearts

In rats and pigs with blood vessels damaged by heart attacks, researchers from Taiwan and elsewhere successfully used nanotechnology to promote the growth of new capillaries and arteries and also restore circulatory function. The concept offers a novel "regenerative" approach to treat heart failure. For now, however, there is some dispute about how much the innovative technique will help people.

Details are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and The Wall Street Journal provides a compelling summary of the study's key findings.

The research, led by cardiac surgeon Dr. Patrick Hsieh of the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, builds on earlier work, as these things often do. Specifically, they developed a new approach toward using the protein VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) to jump-start the growth of new blood vessels in the heart. Researchers have tried this in the past, but blood circulation washes it away, according to the article. This time, scientists for the new study developed sticky, gel-like lattice fibers made from pieces of protein, mixed it with the VEGF material and injected the combined substance into the hearts of rats and pigs made to suffer heart attacks.

Interestingly, the lattice material kept the VEGF in place, after which it was released over several weeks. Bone marrow stem cells subsequently sensed this process and migrated to the heart, according to the story, where they began to grow capillaries. Over time, the hearts grew arteries that helped boost heart function. New heart muscle grew as well, helping to counter post heart attack scarring.

Hsieh and his team said they were excited about the results in pigs particularly, because their hearts are similar to humans. But there is so much more to be done here. Researchers must evaluate how animals respond to the treatment longer-term, and they need to know the best time to administer the VEGF/nanofiber treatment. Should it be given to humans immediately after a heart attack, as it was in the animal tests? Or will the treatment still be effective the week after a heart attack strikes? All of these questions and more must be answered first, and these answers are likely years away.

- read the WSJ article (sub. req.)
- check out the journal abstract

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