Promising Research News
for Cardiovascular Patients
PATCHING UP A HEART ATTACK
Researchers in England are reporting that they have grown heart patches in the lab that are safe to move into trials for people with hearts damaged by a heart attack. These patches could one day cure debilitating heart failure, which is a major killer in the United States. At Imperial College London, sci-entists have developed a way to grow thumb-size patches of heart tissue (3cm x 2cm) that contain up to 50 million human stem cells. The stem cells are pro-grammed to turn into working heart muscles that can be seen beating. One or more of these patches could be implanted in the heart of someone after they’ve had a heart attack to limit, and even reverse, the loss of the heart’s pumping ability, according to the researchers. During a heart at-tack, the heart is starved of vital nutrients and oxygen, killing off parts of the heart muscle. This weakens the heart and can eventually lead to heart failure.
The patches have been shown to be safe in rabbits and they led to an improve-ment in the function of the heart after a heart attack. After a period of up to four weeks, detailed heart scans showed that the heart’s left ventricle (the chamber responsible for pumping blood through the aorta) was recovering without developing any abnormal heart rhythms, which is a potential side effect of other stem cell delivery methods. Importantly, the patches appeared to be nourished by blood vessels growing into them from the recipient heart. Once sewn in place, the patches are intended to physically support the dam-aged heart muscle and help it pump more efficiently by releasing natural chemicals that stimulate the heart cells to repair and regenerate. The patches were developed in response to somewhat disappointing results from around the world when stem cells were just directly injected into damaged heart muscle. Without a fixed “patch”, stem cells are quickly cleared from the heart and aren’t able to cause significant levels of repair.
“One day, we hope to add heart patches to the treatments that doctors can routinely offer people after a heart attack. We could prescribe one of these patches alongside medicines for someone with heart failure, which you could take from a shelf and implant straight in to a person,” said Dr. Richard Jab-bour, who carried out the research at the London BHF Centre of Regenera-tive Medicine.
Researchers theorise that walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a plant-based omega-3 that may positively affect blood pressure. For this current study, the researchers recruited 45 participants who were over-weight or obese and were between the ages of 30 and 65. Before the study began, participants were placed on a “run-in” diet for two weeks. The run-in diet included 12 per cent of their calories from saturated fat, which mimics an average American diet.
After the run-in diet, the participants were randomly assigned to one of three study diets, all of which included less saturated fat than the run-in diet. The diets included one that incorporated whole walnuts, one that included the same amount of ALA and polyunsaturated fatty acids without walnuts, and one that partially substituted oleic acid (another fatty acid) for the same amount of ALA found in walnuts, without any walnuts.
Following each diet period, the researchers assessed the participants for sev-eral cardiovascular risk factors including central systolic and diastolic blood pressure, brachial pressure, cholesterol and arterial stiffness. The researchers found that while all treatment diets had a positive effect on cardiovascular outcomes, the diet with whole walnuts provided the greatest benefits.
John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio
and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached
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