Singapore scientists find way to help heart cells repair themselves
Tests on lab mice showed attack- damaged hearts fully healed after four weeks when injected with new treatment
By Ildyko Ang
A groundbreaking new treatment which could enable heart failure and heart attack patients to “self-repair” damaged heart cells has been discovered in the Republic.
The inability of heart cells to regenerate and repair themselves is what makes heart attacks and failures severe and debilitating, making heart disease the leading cause of death worldwide. In Singapore, cardiovascular diseases account for nearly 20 per cent of all deaths every year.
In a three-year study, researchers from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) discovered that a ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule — which they named “Singheart” — is found in larger amounts in the heart cells of patients with heart diseases.
This single-stranded equivalent of DNA prevents heart cells from dividing, and hence self-healing.
The Singheart RNA, scientists found, could be “neutralised” by injecting viruses carrying artificial and complementary molecules into heart cells, hence enabling heart cells to regenerate themselves and self-heal.
Revealing more about the research — which was published on Aug 9 in scientific journal Nature Communications — Associate Professor Roger Foo said yesterday: “In contrast to a skin wound, where the scab falls off and new skin grows over, the heart lacks such a capability to self-heal, and suffers a permanent scar instead. If the heart can be motivated to heal like the skin, the consequences of a heart attack would be banished forever.”
Assoc Prof Foo, 48, is the study’s lead author and the principal investigator at both GIS and NUHS’ Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI).
The team conducted tests on adult mice, in which heart attacks were induced before they were injected with complementary molecules. After four weeks, they discovered that the mice’s hearts had fully recovered. The Singapore team is planning on conducting human trials within the next five years and hopes its research can benefit hospitals and clinics across the world.
The research study is funded by the Asian Network for Translation Research and Cardiovascular Trials programme. It is also supported by the National Medical Research Council of Singapore, and the Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) Young Investigator Grant, which was awarded to first author and GIS’ former senior research fellow Dr Kelvin See last year.