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Dr. Deepak Srivastava of the Gladstone Institutes at the University of California at San Francisco recently announced a new gene therapy that can grow new heart tissue, although not, as some reports say, entire new human hearts.

Having a heart attack, as I can attest from not just one or just two but three personal experiences, is an incredibly tiring experience. During the attack, if you survive it, you may or may not feel intense chest pain. After the attack, if your heart muscle is damaged, you almost certainly will feel unbelievable fatigue.

When your heart doesn't have enough "oomph" for you even to sit up without getting out of breath, you know you have a problem.

And the things you might ordinarily do to help your heart, like taking fish oil, for instance, can make the problem even worse. 

After a Heart Attack, Even Doing the "Right Thing" Sometimes Makes Matters Worse

A heart attack is an interruption of circulation to the heart. When heart cells are deprived of oxygen, they go into a kind of hibernation mode. When the clot that caused the heart attack begins to break up and their oxygen supply is restored, there may be a very brief restoration of heart function, but heart cells quickly tend to "flame out" and die. The surviving tissue of your heart works overtime to keep on pumping blood.

Different parts of the heart fire asynchronously, so that you have irregular heart rhythms. But that's not necessarily the worst possible outcome. Anything that "calms" your heart can shut down struggling heart muscle cells entirely. Heart attack survivors have literally died after making healthy choices in diet and nutritional supplementation. The one thing that could make you better is if somehow a "patch" could be applied to your heart. And that is exactly what stem cell researcher Deepak Srivastava of the University of California recently announced can be done.

"Repairs" to the Heart Have to Fit In Both Anatomically and Electrically

About half of the cells in the heart don't actually pump blood. Called fibroblasts, these cells function as a kind of patch kit for the heart when it is injured. They also form a platform on which the blood-pumping cells known as cardiomyocytes can grow. It is the cardiomyocytes (also known as myocardiocytes) that actually do the work of circulating blood.

It isn't enough to have new cardiomyocytes. These working cells of the heart have to pump in rhythm, the cells at the top of the heart, the atria, firing before the cells at the bottom of the heart, the ventricles, the pattern repeating in the right sequence over and over again. It is the failure of the different parts of the heart to "fire off" in the right sequence that causes disability and sometimes even death after a heart attack. Any kind of patch job to the heart has to be more that just "putty" in the right place in the heart, it also has to fire at the right time in the sequence that powers heartbeat.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bernstein HS, Srivastava D. Stem cell therapy for cardiac disease. Pediatr Res. 2012 Apr. 71(4 Pt 2):491-9. doi: 10.1038/pr.2011.61. Epub 2012 Feb 8. Review.
  • Srivastava D, Ivey KN. Potential of stem-cell-based therapies for heart disease. Nature. 2006 Jun 29. 441(7097):1097-9. Review. Erratum in: Nature. 2006 Nov 23
  • 444(7118):512.
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