Texas-based cardiovascular research has been on display over the past couple of weeks, with the commencement of the American Heart Association’s 2013 Scientific Sessions, which prominently featured recent breakthrough findings from UT Southwestern, UT Health Science Center Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine, among many others. Unrelated to the Scientific Sessions, BCM and Texas Heart Institute researchers have reported new discoveries into how cardiologists can dramatically improve heart repair, particularly after a heart attack.
The research, which was recently published in the scientific journal Development, was led by Dr. James Martin, a member of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Baylor College of Medicine and Director Cardiomyocyte Renewal Laboratory and the Texas Heart Institute. He and his team discovered a new signaling pathway, termed the “Hippo pathway,” which typically has been shown to inhibit heart repair in adult mice following injury from a traumatic event (such as a heart attack). However, when Dr. Martin and his researchers removed certain signals associated with the Hippo pathway, the mice hearts were able to regenerate naturally. The research from Dr. Martin’s team revealed that the regeneration was able to occur due to specialized heart cells, called cardiomyocytes, which were able to proliferate more efficiently.
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Dr. Martin noted that, “The heart is very poor at repairing itself after various types of injury including the most common injury, the myocardial infarct,” adding, “we were very excited to see full return of cardiac function in the Hippo-mutant hearts after injury. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work and also a little good luck.”
Building On Past Research
During embryonic development, and even in newborn mice, the heart maintains the ability to regenerate itself. However, the heart loses this ability at the onset of adulthood — a change that was elucidated in a previous study published in Science, wherein “Martin’s team identified a signaling pathway responsible for cardiomyocyte proliferation during development. Now they find that this same pathway controls proliferation and therefore regeneration in the adult heart too,” according to an article in MedicalExpress.
Dr. Martin explained that this time around, “We approached the problem from the perspective of developmental biologists. Based on our previous observations, we thought there was a good chance that Hippo also functioned as a repressor of adult heart muscle proliferation.”
Based on the previous findings, as well as Dr. Martin’s new study, it appears possible to reactivate the heart’s regenerative capabilities for adults, which could in turn dramatically alter outcomes for victims of heart attack and other cardiological maladies.
“The implications for treating heart disease are great,” Dr. Martin remarked. “With recent advances, it is now clear that the heart muscle can be coaxed to make new muscle cells,” says Martin. “This has been a very exciting and memorable year for heart regeneration research.”