Washington: Scientists have discovered how to "turn back the clock" on ageing heart tissue to provide it a new lease of life using modified stem cells.
The discovery could lead to new treatments for heart failure patients, which often follows a heart attack.
Researchers modified the stem cells in the laboratory with PIM-1, a protein that promotes cell survival and growth. These cells in turn rejuvenate the damaged cells and tissues in heart failure patients.
Cells were rejuvenated when the modified stem cells enhanced activity of an enzyme called telomerase, which elongates telomere length.
A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration.
"Since patients with heart failure are normally elderly, their cardiac stem cells aren't very healthy. We modified these biopsied stem cells and made them healthier," Dr Sadia Mohsin, one of the study authors said.
"It is like turning back the clock so these cells can thrive again," said Mohsin.
"There is no doubt that stem cells can be used to counter the aging process of cardiac cells caused by telomere degradation," she said.
Researchers have tested the technique in mice and pigs and found that telomere lengthening leads to new heart tissue growth in just four weeks.
"This is an especially exciting finding for heart failure patients. Right now we can only offer medication, heart transplantation or stem cell therapies with modest regenerative potential, but PIM-1 modification offers a significant advance for clinical treatment," they said.
The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Because the heart cannot repair itself, nothing can be done to prevent its deterioration once it is damaged. But now experts in California have found a way to reverse this damage.
Using stem cells, they succeeded in resetting a molecular mechanism that determines the rate at which cells age.