A jab that allows damaged hearts to heal themselves and could be given by paramedics in the back of ambulances is being developed at a British university.
Scientists at Imperial College London hope that giving heart attack victims an injection of stem cells will trick the organ into repairing itself, saving lives and greatly cutting the odds of further ill health.
Crucially, and unlike other techniques being tested on patients in the UK, the cells they plan to use are from a person’s own heart, an innovation they believe increases the odds of the treatment being a success.
They are close to applying for permission to test the jab on patients.
If trials on heart attack survivors are successful, the injection could eventually be given by paramedics just minutes after a heart attack and before patients even reach hospital.
A jab that allows damaged hearts to heal themselves and could be given by paramedics in the back of ambulances is being developed at Imperial College London
The jab is one of several treatments being researched by the British Heart Foundation as part of its multi-million-pound Mending Broken Hearts project to improve the care of heart attack patients.
The aim is to cut the odds of heart failure, in which the heart, weakened by one, or a series of heart attacks, struggles to pump blood around the body.
In the most severe cases, the lungs ‘drown’ in fluid.
Treatments range from drugs to transplants but with 40% of those affected dying within a year of diagnosis, heart failure has a worse survival rate than many cancers.
Doctors and scientists around the world are trying to use stem cells – “blank” cells able to turn into various types of tissue – to shore up ailing hearts.
But most have focused on cells taken from bone marrow and improvements have been slight.
The Imperial team believes that stem cells from the heart will be much more successful.
These cells are extremely rare, with just 300 per million normal heart cells, meaning the lack the power needed to repair the damage wrought by a heart attack.
But the scientists have found a way of extracting them from a patient’s own heart, and growing them in huge numbers the laboratory, before injecting them back into the hear
Once there, they patch up the ailing tissue, with tests on mice showing stem cells taken from the animals’ hearts trigger the growth of new tissue and blood vessels.
The human version of the jab has also been tested on pigs and the researchers are one to two years away from applying for permission to test the treatment on patients.
With it taking three to four months to grow enough cells for each jab, the first patients will be treated several months after a heart attack.
But in time, it may be possible to create a one-size-fits-all jab, allowing almost immediate treatment, said researcher Professor Michael Schneider.
Esther Rantzen, who is backing the Mending Broken Hearts appeal and whose late husband, the documentary maker, Desmond Wilcox battled heart disease for years, said: “If hearts learn to heal themselves, then people who are bed-bound, who are imprisoned in their own homes, who can’t walk upstairs, who can’t involve themselves in any physical activity could be restored to health and their family life greatly improved.”
Prof. Michael Schneider is also trying to find ways of stopping cells from dying during a heart attack.
Other work being funded by the BHF includes research into a pill that could be given in advance to those at high risk of heart attacks and patches of cells that could patch up the heart.
Professor Peter Weissberg, the charity’s medical director, said that despite advances in cardiac medicine, a good treatment for severe heart failure has remained elusive.
“Although we have been able to prevent heart attacks and treat people with heart attacks when they occur, we haven’t been able to stop the damage that occurs when a heart attack takes place.
“The reason we are making such a noise about it now is that science has progressed to a point where it looks biologically feasible that we might be able to create new heart cells to repair the heart.
“Ten years ago, that would have been science function.”
Having a highly demanding job, but little control over it, could be a deadly combination, British researchers have found.
They analyzed 13 existing European studies covering nearly 200,000 people and found “job strain” was linked to a 23% increased risk of heart attacks and deaths from coronary heart disease.
The risk to the heart was much smaller than for smoking or not exercising, the Lancet medical journal report said.
The British Heart Foundation said how people reacted to work stress was key.
Job strain is a type of stress. The research team at University College London said working in any profession could lead to strain, but it was more common in lower skilled workers.
Doctors who have a lot of decision-making in their jobs would be less likely to have job strain than someone working on a busy factory production line.
Having a highly demanding job, but little control over it, could be a deadly combination
There has previously been conflicting evidence on the effect of job strain on the heart.
In this paper, the researchers analyzed combined data from 13 studies.
At the beginning of each of the studies, people were asked whether they had excessive workloads or insufficient time to do their job as well as questions around how much freedom they had to make decisions.
They were then sorted into people with job strain or not and followed for an average of seven and a half years.
One of the researchers, Prof. Mika Kivimaki, from University College London, said: “Our findings indicate that job strain is associated with a small but consistent increased risk of experiencing a first coronary heart disease event, such as a heart attack.”
The researchers said eliminating job strain would prevent 3.4% of those cases, whereas there would be a 36% reduction if everyone stopped smoking.
Prof. Mika Kivimaki said the evidence of a direct effect of job strain on the heart was mixed.
He said job strain was linked to other lifestyle choices that were bad for the heart: “We know smokers with job strain are more likely to smoke a bit more, active people with job strain are more likely to become inactive and there is a link with obesity.
“If one has high stress at work you can still reduce risk by keeping a healthy lifestyle.”
Prof. Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that being under stress at work, and being unable to change the situation, could increase your risk of developing heart disease.
“This large study confirms this, but also shows that the negative effect of workplace strain is much smaller than, for example, the damage caused by smoking or lack of exercise.
“Though stresses at work may be unavoidable, how you deal with these pressures is important, and lighting up a cigarette is bad news for your heart. Eating a balanced diet, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking will more than offset any risk associated with your job.”
Dr. Bo Netterstrom, from Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark, said other stresses at work such as job insecurity “are likely to be of major importance”.
He said job strain was “a measure of only part of a psychosocially damaging work environment”.
A new research has found that getting enough exercise in midlife will help protect your heart.
Even those who make the switch in their late 40s and 50s can still benefit, the study of over 4,000 people suggests.
And it need not be hard toil in a gym – gardening and brisk walks count towards the required 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week, say experts.
But more work is needed since the study looked at markers linked to heart problems and not heart disease itself.
A new research has found that getting enough exercise in midlife will help protect your heart
And it relied on people accurately reporting how much exercise they did – something people tend to overestimate rather than underestimate.
In the study, which is published in the journal Circulation, people who did the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise a week had the lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Inflammatory markers are important, say experts, because high levels have been linked to increased heart risk.
People who said they consistently stuck to the recommended amount of exercise for the entire 10-year study had the lowest inflammatory levels overall.
But even those who said they only started doing the recommended amount of exercise when they were well into their 40s saw an improvement and had lower levels of inflammation than people who said they never did enough exercise.
The findings were unchanged when the researchers took into consideration other factors, such as obesity and smoking, that could have influenced the results.
Dr. Mark Hamer, of University College London, who led the research, said: “We should be encouraging more people to get active – for example, walking instead of taking the bus. You can gain health benefits from moderate activity at any time in your life.”
Maureen Talbot of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the work, said: “Donning your gardening gloves or picking up a paint brush can still go a long way to help look after your heart health, as exercise can have a big impact on how well your heart ages.
“This research highlights the positive impact changing your exercise habits can have on the future of your heart health – and that it’s never too late to re-energize your life.
“However it’s important not to wait until you retire to get off the couch, as being active for life is a great way to keep your heart healthy.”