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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 15:10 GMT
Body can repair heart damage
Heart surgery
Tests were carried out on heart transplant patients
The body can repair damage suffered to the heart after injury, research suggests.

The finding is in stark contrast to the long-held belief that the heart cannot repair itself.

It could have significant implications for the treatment of heart disease.


It certainly blows a hole in the widely held view about the potential for regeneration of the heart

Professor John Reid
A team from New York Medical College examined tissue from eight men who had received heart transplants from women.

Female cells lack the Y chromosome that carries the genetic code for male characteristics.

This enabled the researchers to determine which cells came from the female donor and which belonged to the male recipient.

The researchers found cells throughout the female heart that contained a Y chromosome.

In some samples from the heart, more than 45% of the cells carried the Y chromosome.

Cell origin

It is not clear where these cells originally came from.

It is possible that they originated from remnants of the old male heart.

Alternatively, they may have once been immature stem cells in the bone marrow which have the capacity to become different types of adult cell.

These cells may have migrated to the heart in an attempt to repair damage from heart surgery.

Many of the male cells that had found a home in the transplanted heart had characteristics of stem cells.

The researchers were surprised at the speed and degree to which the cells of the host worked to repair and remodel the new heart.

They found plenty of evidence of Y-chromosome containing cells in the heart of one patient who died just four days after his transplant.

Many of those heart cells and the tiny blood vessels they had formed were fully mature and indistinguishable from the donor cells.

Impact

However, it is unclear whether the influx of cells from the patient to the new heart is important enough to play a role in determining whether the donated heart survives.

Professor John Reid, head of the Cardiovascular Research School at Glasgow University, told BBC News Online that the study was very interesting.

He said: "It certainly blows a hole in the widely held view about the potential for regeneration of the heart.

"But although it carries an important biological message, it is, as yet, very difficult to tell whether it will have any clinical impact."

A spokesman for the British Heart Foundation told BBC News Online: "This is a small interesting piece of research in an area that is currently very topical.

"It suggests, although it is still unclear, that male stem cells may be involved in helping to repair the heart following transplantation.

"Although the findings of this study are encouraging, much more large-scale research is needed to improve our understanding of how the heart muscle may repair itself and the safety and value of stem cells for restoring the function of the heart and circulation."

The research is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

See also:

17 Feb 01 | Health
Stem cells repair stroke damage
20 Sep 00 | Health
Doctors 'reverse' heart failure
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