Heart health

The British Heart Foundation on mending broken hearts this Valentine’s Day

Written by Lauren Tedaldi from the British Heart Foundation and originally posted on the BHF website.

Heart patches grown at one of the BHF Centres of Regenerative Medicine are offering hope to those living with heart failure, this Valentine’s Day.

Stem cell patches on a scaffold

Grown in a small dish in a laboratory in central London, small heart ‘patches’, grown from stem cells are promising to heal hearts damaged after a heart attack and prevent, or even reverse heart failure.

Due in large part to research breakthroughs led by the British Heart Foundation, more people than ever before are surviving heart attacks, but sadly their hearts are often irreversibly damaged by being starved of blood during a heart attack. This means that an increasing number of people are living with heart failure – a debilitating and life-changing condition that makes even simple tasks like climbing the stairs or dressing completely exhausting.

Now, a team led by Professor Sian Harding at Imperial College London are developing ways to repair this damage, using thumb-sized patches of heart tissue, grown from stem cells. These patches can be grown from a person’s own skin cells, to create a personalised heart repair patch to stop or even cure heart failure.
February is Heart Month and the 14th is, of course, Valentine’s Day but these scientists are working every day and every month to keep hearts beating and blood pumping.

Professor Sian Harding leads the Centre of Regenerative Medicine, a collaboration between universities in London, Nottingham, Glasgow and Hamburg in Germany, all working towards the common goal of repairing damaged heart tissue.

Beating heart patches

Beating heart patch

Once sewn in place, the patches physically support the damaged heart muscle and help it pump more efficiently, while also releasing chemicals that stimulate the heart cells to repair and regenerate. Eventually, the patches would be incorporated into the damaged heart muscle and repair it.

At the moment, the patches are grown from human lung cells, ‘reprogrammed’ into stem cells and heart muscle with sophisticated but relatively simple laboratory techniques. One day, the patches could be made from a patient’s own skin cells, making them truly ‘personalised’. Scientists even hope to one day have a stock of patches that could be compatible with anyone, ready to use in any patient.

“Once the heart cells reach a certain point they spontaneously start beating together – it’s quite amazing to watch”, said Dr Thomas Owen, a scientist in Professor Harding’s laboratory.

“The ideal scenario would be, in perhaps 10 years’ time, to have banks of these pumping patches from a universal donor cell line – rather like universal blood donors that can be used for anyone. Then you could prescribe one of these patches alongside medicines for someone with heart failure, which you could take straight from the shelf and implant into a person.”

The team hope to move on from their current successes and start initial human trials in two to three years’ time, and are exploring minimally invasive ways of applying the patch.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, our Associate Medical Director said:

“Due in large part to research we’ve funded, more people are surviving heart attacks than ever before. But that means there’s a growing number of people at risk of heart failure, as their hearts can’t recover from the damage caused by the heart attack. Heart failure is a debilitating and life-changing condition with no cure, making everyday tasks incredibly difficult.

“This is a prime example of world-leading research that has the potential to mend broken hearts and transform lives around the globe. The BHF Centres of Regenerative Medicine are spearheading some of the most exciting science on the planet, all aimed at repairing the damage caused by a heart attack. Each centre focuses on a different area of cutting-edge research, from teaching the heart to repair itself to growing new blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. The London centre has been developing patches built from stem cells that could one day be used to help fix a failing heart.”

Good news for anyone with a damaged heart this Valentine’s Day.

Pharmacy2U and the British Heart Foundation

Pharmacy2U and the British Heart Foundation together

To help us all live longer, healthier lives with the people we love, the BHF invest donations into research and support for people affected by heart and circulatory diseases. Which is why we’re really excited to be supporting the British Heart Foundation in their mission to beat heartbreak forever.

As the UK’s largest online pharmacy, supporting over 370,000 patients with their NHS repeat prescriptions, many of our patients heart and circulatory diseases. We’re committed to delivering positive patient outcomes, which is why we’ve chosen the BHF as our chosen charity for 2020. Find out more about the partnership here. 

The British Heart Foundation By The British Heart Foundation Published 13/02/2020