Researchers have pinpointed a molecular mechanism needed to unleash the heart's ability to regenerate, a critical step toward developing eventual therapies for damage suffered following a heart attack.
Cardiologists and molecular biologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center teaming up to study in mice how heart tissue regenerates, found that microRNAs - tiny strands that regulate gene expression - contribute to the heart's ability to regenerate up to one week after birth. Soon thereafter the heart loses the ability to regenerate. By determining the fundamental mechanisms that control the heart's natural regenerative on-off switch, researchers have begun to better understand the No. 1 hurdle in cardiovascular research - the inability of the heart to regenerate following injury.
"For the first time since we began studying how cells respond to a heart attack, we now believe it is possible to activate a program of endogenous regeneration," said Dr. Hesham Sadek, assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of cardiology, and the senior author of a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Each year, nearly 1 million people in the United States have a heart attack, while about 600,000 die of cardiovascular disease annually. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.