The Rutgers scientists developed a new model that reduces the need for bypass surgery, heart transplants, and artificial pumping machines. By the process of 'reverse engineering' connective tissue cells removed from the human heart into heart stem cells and 're-engineering' them into heart muscle cells, the heart is made to heal themselves.
The Rutgers team's true breakthrough, however, is that the newly created cardiac muscle cells clumped together into a single unit that visibly pumps under the microscope.
Senior author Leonard Y. Lee, chair of the Department of Surgery at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said cardiac cells made in this way don't normally come together and beat as one. His team succeeded in making this happen by over-expressing, a protein in the cells called CREG.
"Heart failure has reached epidemic proportions. Right now, the only option to treat it is surgery, transplant, or connecting the patient with a blood-pumping machine," Lee said. "But transplantable hearts are in short supply and mechanical devices limit the patient's quality of life. So, we are working for ways to help hearts heal themselves."
Though still far off, Lee's ultimate goal is to be able to remove small amounts of a patient's native heart tissue, use CREG to convert the tissue into cardiac muscles that will work together cohesively, and re-introduce them into the patient's heart allowing it to heal itself.
More than six million Americans are living with heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. While most people hear the term "heart failure" and think this means the heart is no longer working at all, but it actually means that the heart is not pumping as well as it should be. People with heart failure often experience fatigue and shortness of breath and have difficulty with every day activities such as walking and climbing stairs.