Researchers in Oxford and California experiment with medical technology that could make transplants unnecessary
Every two minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. Every six minutes, someone dies from heart failure. During an attack, the heart remodels itself and dilates around the site of the injury to try to compensate, but these repairs are rarely effective. If the attack does not kill you, heart failure later frequently will.
"No matter what other clinical interventions are available, heart transplantation is the only genuine cure for this," says Paul Riley, professor of regenerative medicine at Oxford University. "The problem is there is a dearth of heart donors."
Transplants have their own problems – successful operations require patients to remain on toxic, immune-suppressing drugs for life and their subsequent life expectancies are not usually longer than 20 years.
The solution, emerging from the laboratories of several groups of scientists around the world, is to work out how to rebuild damaged hearts. Their weapons of choice are reprogrammed stem cells.