Page last updated at 20:24 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 21:24 UK

Broken hearts mend with 'patch'

By Sudeep Chand
Science reporter, BBC News

Heart attack
Patches may repair the damage from heart attacks

A team of Israeli scientists has developed a potential way to fix the damage from heart attacks.

A "patch" has been made from heart muscle that can be used to fix scarring left over from a heart attack.

Writing in the journal PNAS, the scientists describe how the technique strengthened the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks.

The "patch" was grown in abdominal tissue first, then transplanted to damaged areas of the heart.

This experiment is the first to show that such patches can actually improve the health of a heart after it has been damaged.

The scientists measured an increase in the size of the muscle in damaged areas, and improved conduction of the electrical impulses needed for the heart to pump normally.

Heart failure

Heart attacks usually cause irreversible damage to heart muscle. If people survive, then the damaged muscle can cause another serious condition called heart failure.

It is hoped that the procedure may eventually lead to treatments in humans because of its "simplicity and safety", the authors - led by Tal Dvir from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva - wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

However, they added that "because most patients with heart attacks are old, and multiple surgery can pose a large risk to them, our strategy is not currently an option".

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told BBC News: "In the last decade there has been significant research into injecting cells, including stem cells, into the heart to try and repair the damaged area.

"This study was in animals, but may help scientists better understand how to repair damaged human hearts in the future."

The technique is also being developed for livers and bladders.

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