£3 million funding for research into technology that could cure heart failure

British Heart Foundation announces £3 million for research into regenerative technology that could cure heart failure.

Eight cutting-edge heart failure projects are set to receive millions of pounds’ worth of funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) this year, with the money raised, fittingly enough, by the London Marathon.

Longevity.Technology: Heart disease is the world’s greatest killer, with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year [1]. With organs for transplant in short supply, the focus is turning to regenerative medicine – getting the heart to repair itself – and the BHF is planning to fund eight projects all aimed at finding ways to cure heart failure. Given that a picture paints a thousand words, BHF has made the smart move of showcasing this regenerative research through a stunning set of images that shows the Foundation’s desire to not just ameliorate the symptoms of heart disease, or to extend patients’ lives, but to cure heart disease by regenerating, regrowing or replacing damaged cells and tissues.

“Heart failure is a debilitating condition that dramatically affects the lives of almost 1 million people in the UK,” commented Professor Metin Avkiran, BHF Associate Medical Director.

“BHF-funded research has spear-headed treatments to give people with heart failure longer, healthier lives, but there is no cure. Regenerative medicine offers that hope.

“The money raised by the 2022 TCS London Marathon will enable these researchers to push the boundaries of medicine by finding ways to teach the heart to repair itself. Unlocking these secrets could help heal hearts and transform the outcomes for people living with devastating heart failure.”

Growing heart muscle from stem cells

The red strands in the above image show a protein called Troponin T, which plays a crucial role in the contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle.
© Professor Stefan Hoppler, University of Aberdeen

The red strands in the above image show a protein called Troponin T, which plays a crucial role in the contraction and relaxation of the heart muscle. Professor Stefan Hoppler and his team at the University of Aberdeen are using these cells to mimic how heart muscle develops in the uterus, with the hope that heart muscle cells grown like this in a dish could one day help patients who have had a heart attack, regenerating damaged tissue and improving outcomes.

Send in the clones

Dr Mairi Brittan at the University of Edinburgh and her team are researching clone cells. The colourful ribbons in the image above are clone cells on the inside of the blood vessels (endothelial cells) in the heart; they are cells that have copied themselves and then relocate to areas that are oxygen-deficient and get to work creating new blood and lymphatic vessels.
© Dr Mairi Brittan, University of Edinburgh

Dr Mairi Brittan at the University of Edinburgh and her team are researching clone cells. The colourful ribbons in the image above are clone cells on the inside of the blood vessels (endothelial cells) in the heart; they are cells that have copied themselves and then relocate to areas that are oxygen-deficient and get to work creating new blood and lymphatic vessels.

The Edinburgh team hopes that by finding ways to stimulate these clone cells after a heart attack, the heart can learn to rewire its blood vessels to provide damaged areas of the heart with more oxygen. This increase in oxygen and nutrients could save heart muscle and prevent heart failure.

Developing blood vessels from A… to Zebrafish

This image shows the developing blood vessels of a two-day old zebrafish embryo, with the blood and lymphatic vessels tagged with a red fluorescent protein.
© Dr Sarah De Val, University of Oxford

This image shows the developing blood vessels of a two-day old zebrafish embryo, with the blood and lymphatic vessels tagged with a red fluorescent protein. By labelling the veins with a green fluorescent protein, the veins glow yellow, and the arteries glow red. By studying zebrafish in this way, Dr Sarah De Val and her team at the University of Oxford, are developing an understanding of exactly how blood vessels develop; their aim is to be able to manipulate blood vessel growth in the human heart to enable it to better recover after a heart attack or failure.

Healing heart failure

This image shows part of a beating heart – grown in a dish. The heart cells, which can been seen dotted with white nuclei, were grown in Professor Sanjay Sinha's laboratory at the University of Cambridge.
© Professor Sanjay Sinha, University of Cambridge

This image shows part of a beating heart – grown in a dish. The heart cells, which can been seen dotted with white nuclei, were grown in Professor Sanjay Sinha’s laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Professor Sinha and his team are using stem cells to grow patches of real heart tissue, which they hope to apply them onto damaged areas of the heart so the heart can repair itself.

MicroRNAs are a shot to the heart

Professor Mauro Giacca at King’s College London is carrying out some stimulating research; by injecting mice hearts with microRNAs (small molecules that turn genes off), the multiplication of heart muscle cells is triggered, the hearts are stimulated into regenerating and the thickened heart muscle is made stronger as a result.
© Professor Mauro Giacca, KCL

Professor Mauro Giacca at King’s College London is carrying out some stimulating research; by injecting mice hearts with microRNAs (small molecules that turn genes off), the multiplication of heart muscle cells is triggered, the hearts are stimulated into regenerating and the thickened heart muscle is made stronger as a result.

This image shows heart muscle cells which have been stimulated by the same microRNAs (luminous green) and cells that are multiplying and will strengthen heart muscle (red dots).

Professor Giacca and his team hope that injecting microRNAs into the heart will stimulate heart cells to regenerate and repair the damage seen in people with heart failure.

Heart failure research branches out

Dr Joaquim Vieira at the University of Oxford is endeavouring to understand processes in the embryo that trigger the heart to repair itself after damage.
© Dr Joaquim Vieira, University of Oxford

What looks like tree roots reaching out for water is actually the structure of the blood vessels on the epicardium, the outside surface of the heart.

Dr Joaquim Vieira at the University of Oxford is endeavouring to understand processes in the embryo that trigger the heart to repair itself after damage. Cells from the epicardium are ‘switched on’ in a process called the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), and by investigating this and understanding the EMT process in the heart, Dr Vieira believes that switching the genes on again and helping to heal damaged hearts, could translate into a possible therapy.

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/cardiovascular-diseases

Main image photo credit: Professor Mauro Giacca, KCL

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