MicroRNA - small molecules that control gene expression regenerates damaged heart cells, say researchers.
Using microRNA is simpler than many other tissue-regenerating approaches, said Dzau, who is also Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University.
For example, stem cells aren't easy to work with and have ethical issues surrounding their use, he said.
"This research represents a major advance in regenerative medicine overcoming the difficulties encountered with stem cells, and may be applied to other conditions of tissue damage such as stroke and spinal cord injury."
MicroRNAs serve as master switches. Each microRNA regulates genes, turning them on or off. Dzau's team identified a combination of three microRNA types that convert fibroblasts to muscle cells.
Researchers will next study whether microRNAs repair damaged hearts in larger animals and improve heart function. If those studies prove safe and effective, they will start human studies, Dzau said.
"If everything comes to fruition, I think we will see this as a therapy in the next decade," Dzau said.
"Conceivably, we'll use it to regenerate hearts damaged by heart attacks, avoiding heart failure and saving lives," Dzau added.
The study has been published in Circulation Research, an American Heart Association journal.