NEW YORK (Jan. 4, 2013) -- A cocktail of three specific genes can reprogram cells in the scars caused by heart attacks into functioning muscle cells, and the addition of a gene that stimulates the growth of blood vessels enhances that effect, said researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College, Baylor College of Medicine and Stony Brook University Medical Center in a report that appears online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
"The idea of reprogramming scar tissue in the heart into functioning heart muscle was exciting," said Dr. Todd K. Rosengart, chair of the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at BCM and the report's corresponding author. "The theory is that if you have a big heart attack, your doctor can just inject these three genes into the scar tissue during surgery and change it back into heart muscle. However, in these animal studies, we found that even the effect is enhanced when combined with the VEGF gene."
"This experiment is a proof of principle," said Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a pioneer in gene therapy, who played an important role in the research. "Now we need to go further to understand the activity of these genes and determine if they are effective in even larger hearts."
During a heart attack, blood supply is cut off to the heart, resulting in the death of heart muscle. The damage leaves behind a scar and a much weakened heart. Eventually, most people who have had serious heart attacks will develop heart failure.
Changing the scar into heart muscle would strengthen the heart. To accomplish this, during surgery, Rosengart and his colleagues transferred three forms of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene that enhances blood vessel growth or an inactive material (both attached to a gene vector) into the hearts of rats. Three weeks later, the rats received either Gata4, Mef 2c and Tbx5 (the
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Weill Cornell Medical College