SEATTLE - Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Five million Americans are living with heart failure, and 715,000 will have a heart attack this year.
Now, scientists are working on a new way to repair damaged hearts.
The heart weighs 10 ounces, on average beats 72 times a minute and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through the body every day.
The heart is an amazing organ, but when it encounters an attack, this body part falls flat.
"The heart is very poor at self-repair. It's one of the least regenerative organs in the body," said Dr. Charles Murry, professor of pathology, bioengineering, and medicine/cardiology, Murry Laboratory, UW Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Washington are studying a new way to fix hearts.
"Our idea is to use stem cells in such a way that they can actually re-muscularize the heart after it's become injured in some way," Murry said.
First, they place embryonic stem cells along with other special cells in a petri dish so they grow and divide.
"In about two weeks, you will see in the dish spontaneous beating human heart muscle," said James Fugate, lab manager/research scientist, Murry Lab, UW Medicine.
Beating human heart muscle cells are put into a matrix, where they form into a heart patch.
"We can take these patches and attach them to the surface of the heart, kind of like a muscular Band-Aid," Murry said.
The patch helps cells form new tissue in the heart. It could be used in patients who've had a heart attack or those with heart failure.
"It's like growing back parts of your heart that you lost due to disease," Murry said.
The heart patch is being studied in the lab in animals, where it prevented heart failure after a heart attack, beating 120 times a minute in monkeys.
Murry hopes to see the same kinds of results in humans, and if they do, it will revolutionize the way our most vital organ heals.
One of the major obstacles researchers need to overcome is the likelihood that people's immune systems would reject the embryonic stem cell transplant unless they take medications for the rest of their lives.
Murry said he hopes to one day create new tissues from a person's own cells.
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