Gene Transfer Can Help Ailing Heart Heal Itself

LANSING – In a major breakthrough, scientists jump-started a failing heart by transferring a gene, which could help the heart heal itself.

The breakthrough also offers a tantalizing glimpse of a day when “closed heart surgery” via gene therapy is as commonly prescribed as today’s cocktail of drugs.

Five million people in the US have heart failure, about 550,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and more than 287,000 people die each year of heart failure, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, hypertension or high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the needs of other body organs.

“We hope that our study will lead some day to the development of new genetic-based therapies for heart failure patients,” said Todd J. Herron, study co-author and professor at the University of Michigan (U-M).

Herron and colleagues treated heart muscle cells from the failing hearts of rabbits and humans with a virus modified to carry a gene which produces a protein that enables heart cells to contract normally.

“Helping hearts heal themselves, rather than prescribing yet another drug to sustain a failing organ, would be a major advance for doctors and patients alike,” said Gerald Weissmann, clinician and editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal, which published these findings.