press release
Published: 21 December 2017

University of Surrey researchers awarded over £100,000 to explore how stem cells could heal damage caused by heart attacks

By Natasha Meredith

Researchers from the University of Surrey have been awarded £108,000 from the British Heart Foundation to investigate how stem cells could be used to repair damage caused to the heart following a heart attack. 

Illustration of heart

A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood. This damages the organ causing scar tissue to form, which is stiff and unable to contract, reducing the heart ability to pump blood throughout the body.

One option for a future treatment is to transplant new heart muscle cells – cardiomyocytes – made from stem cells into the damaged area.

During this innovative investigation researchers led by Dr Patrizia Camelliti will examine how newly implanted heart cells behave when they are in contact with myofibroblasts, cells which are found in scar tissue. Using a novel technique developed by Dr Camelliti to simulate the heart scar environment, this funding from the British Heart Foundation will enable the team to study how the cells work together.

Dr Patrizia Camelliti, Principal Investigator and Lecturer in Cardiovascular Biology, said: “While the treatment and management of heart disease has advanced greatly, there is still no effective way to repair damage caused by a heart attack. 

“Stem cell therapies offer the possibility of restoring heart function, but we have to be sure that this treatment is safe.

“Unravelling the effect of myofibroblasts on electrical function and learning more about how they work will be an important step towards unlocking the exciting potential that stem cells offer to repair the heart.”

Dr Noel Faherty, Senior Research Advisor at the BHF, said: “Understanding why newly transplanted heart cells can trigger dangerous heart rhythms is an urgent question for scientists.

“If we’re not able to address that problem, then it won’t be possible to start the clinical trials that would be needed to make this type of stem cell treatment available to patients.

“Vital research projects like this one are only possible thanks to the generosity of the public. It’s only with their continued support that we can continue to fund the research that will deliver the breakthroughs that can help improve the treatment, prevention and cure of heart disease.”

Most deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by a heart attack. In the UK there are nearly 200,000 hospital visits each year due to heart attacks: the equivalent of one every three minutes. An estimated 915,000 people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack. In the 1960s more than 7 out of 10 heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Today at least 7 out of 10 people survive


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