Bay Area research breakthrough encourages hope for heart attack treatment

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Imagine taking a pill to reverse the damage from a heart attack. A Bay Area research team has made a breakthrough that could bring that kind of treatment a step closer to reality. (KGO-TV)

Imagine taking a pill to reverse the damage from a heart attack. A Bay Area research team has made a breakthrough that could bring that kind of treatment a step closer to reality.

"We feel a great sense of urgency because people out there are dying because we don't have any good solutions," says Deepak Srivastava, M.D.

Srivastava and his team helped pioneer a way to turn scar tissue into the living beating heart muscle you see on the screen. The technique, developed in their lab San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes, involves tweaking the genes in adult heart cells, to trick them into changing.

"And now we have to refine the process so that we can do it in people," he adds.

To make that happen, the Gladstone team launched a massive search that would have taken a decade maybe more with ordinary microscopes. But with high speed screening machines, researchers compared more than five thousand chemicals over the course of three years. Co-investigator tamer Mohamed says fluorescent markers helped them spot the best candidates.

"And so when we saw a lot of wells with a lot of fluorescence this means we have you know, a hit," explains Mohamed.

Finally, they identified two chemicals that help speed up heart regeneration creating eight times as many heart muscle cells in a fraction of the time.

"We didn't think we'd be this far ahead this quickly in trying to get this into people, but it's moving fast," Srivastava says.

He cautions that more work is still needed, and that human trials are still probably several years away. If successful, researchers say the heart attack treatment could involve taking a drug, transplanting healthy cells into the heart, or a combination of both.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

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