Researchers at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex and Imperial College London have said that heart patients may soon be treated with a gene therapy injection that can all but erase the need for transplant surgery.
They are conducting a trial, in which heart attack patients waiting for a transplant will undergo the revolutionary new therapy that should see them avoid having to undergo the operation altogether, reports the Telegraph.
Researchers have been given approval to use a genetically modified virus to treat 16 patients waiting for heart transplants.
They claim that the treatment - the first of its kind in the UK - can be used to help the heart recover from the damage caused during a cardiac arrest by helping the muscles around damaged heart tissue to beat harder and faster.
This helps to compensate for the damage and enables the heart to recover most of its original function.
"We are aiming to make the most of the heart muscle that a patient has left after a heart attack," Professor Sian Harding, a cardiac pharmacologist at Imperial College London, who is leading the trial, said.
"In cases where they suffer a lot of damage, patients are given pumps called Left Ventricular Assist Devices that support the heart while they wait for a transplant. We hope to be able to wean them off the pumps to the point it can be removed and they can live a normal life.
"If it works it will allow patients to keep their own heart without the need for a transplant," Harding added.
Heart attacks occur when part of the heart muscle is starved of oxygen and dies.
This often leaves patients at greater risk of future heart failure as their heart struggles to pump blood around the body after it has been damaged.
The new treatment uses a modified virus, known as an adeno-associated virus, which will carry a gene and insert it into the patient's heart muscle cells.
The gene, known as SERCA2a, causes heart muscle cells to contract more strongly and relax faster, so increasing the heartbeat produced by the undamaged heart muscle and compensating for the dead tissue.
As part of the study, doctors will inject the virus through one of the main arteries that lead to the heart.
Harding is hoping to begin a small safety trial on the technique in January next year.