“Many were so sick prior to getting the patch that they would have been candidates for heart transplantation,” Ruiz-Lozano told BBC News. “The hope is that a similar procedure could eventually be used in human heart attack patients who suffer severe heart damage.”
The scientists conducted a screen for molecules that could spur the production of cardiomyocytes in vitro, and homed in on a protein, Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1). They then designed a collagen-based material coated in FSTL1, and placed it on the hearts of pigs and mice forced to have a heart attack.
Within a month, the researchers observed cardiomyocyte division among animals treated with FSTL1, along with improved cardiac function, less scarring, and better survival.
“It could act like a cell nursery,” Ruiz-Lozano said in a press release. “It’s a hospitable environment. Over time, it gets remodeled and becomes vascularized as new muscle cells come in.”
“This study is an inspiring example of how a developmentally conserved regulatory pathway can be mobilized to induce heart regeneration,” Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic of Columbia University wrote in an accompanying commentary. “Although more work needs to be done to determine the benefits of such an approach in large-animal models (the authors conducted a preliminary study in pigs, but it involved only six animals divided into three groups), the proposed reconstitution of epicardial Fstl1 could lead to entirely new modalities for treating heart infarction.”
Ruiz-Lozano has a startup company working to develop the patch for clinical trials in humans.