Survival indicators for people with heart failure have hardly changed in the past 20 years and life expectancy is worse than in many types of cancer.
"Breakthroughs are desperately needed to alleviate devastation caused by this terrible condition"says Metin Avkiran, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation.
Hope travels in the genes of a small Mexican fish which can hide the key to changing the lives of thousands of people suffering from this problem, often after having had a heart attack.
This species is able to regenerate the tissues of the heart without leaving scars. Its scientific name is Astyanax Mexicanus.When a person suffers a heart attack and survives or has a heart problem, their tissues are repaired, but they leave a scar which prevents the heart muscle from contracting properly.
This factor drastically reduces the heart's ability to pump blood to the body.
Patients are forced to live with the disease for life and the most extreme cases require heart transplant.
A study funded by the British Heart Foundation and led by Dr. Mathilda Mommersteeg and her team at Oxford University, believes that tetra fish, which lives in the rivers of northern Mexico, may provide clues to future treatments.
A gene that humans also have seems to play a particularly important role in the process.
Scientists found that three areas of the genome of these fish were involved in their ability to regenerate cardiac tissue.
The cave lane
To carry out their research, Dr. Mommersteeg's team studied two types of tetra Mexican fish: those who live on the rivers and have the ability to self-heal the heart and those who lived in the caves about 1.5 years ago. millions of years and evolved losing that ability.
When comparing the two types of tetra fish, the researchers found that two genes (lrrc10 and caveolin) were much more active in river fish after a heart injury.
Both genes are present in humans, and lrrc10 is known to be related to a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.The authors of the study say their findings suggest that one day it will be possible to regenerate damaged human hearts by artificially modifying how these and other genes work.
This could be done with medication or by genetic editing techniques, where DNA is modified, deleted or replaced using tools such as Crispr-Cas9.
"I think this fish can tell us, at some point, how we can actually repair the human heart. we are incredibly excited with these extraordinary fish and the potential to change the lives of people with damaged hearts, "said Mommersteeg.
More research will be needed to find other key genes that may be involved in heart regeneration. The study was published in the Cell Reports.