Heart disease is the top killer in the Western world. This is partially because, if one manages to survive an initial heart attack, oftentimes the scar tissue it leaves behind increase their chances of developing heart failure later on. Now however, using animal models, researchers have found a way to improve the quality of scar tissue following a heart attack, thus improving health outcomes.
Currently, approaches taken to reduce scarring after a heart attack focus on restoring blood and oxygen flow to the heart as soon as possible. Although somewhat effective, up to 25% of patients who receive this treatment nevertheless go on to develop heart failure within a year of their first heart attack. Moreover, as many are unable to reach medical care during their attack, with some even not realizing they had one, this treatment is limited in properly preventing harmful scar tissue from forming before it’s too late.
To combat these problems, researchers from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and the University of Sydney experimented with a protein therapy known as recombinant human platelet-derived growth factor-AB (rhPDGF-AB). Previously successful in improving heart function in mice following a heart attack, in their new study, they set out to test it on animals more closely related to humans; in this case: pigs.
After administering an infusion of rhPDGF-AB to pigs post-heart attack, the researchers noted significant improvements in the formation of new blood vessels in the heart, as well as fewer cases of the potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Although the treatment didn’t affect the overall size of the scar, it nevertheless improved heart function by stimulating an increase in the alignment and strength of scar collagen fiber.
James Chong, leader of the research, said, “This is an entirely new approach with no current treatments able to change scar in this way...By improving cardiac function and scar formation following a heart attack, treatment with rhPDGF-AB led to an overall increase in survival rate in our study."
Having been researched for 10 years so far, Chong and his team hope to further study the treatment option-not just eventtually via human trials, but also on other organ systems impact by scar tissue, such as kidneys.