Patching up a broken heart

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It is almost impossible for an injured heart to fully mend itself. Within minutes of being deprived of oxygen – as happens during a heart attack when arteries to the heart are blocked – the heart’s muscle cells start to die. When the body’s repair system kicks in, in an attempt to remove the dead heart cells, a thick layer of scar tissue begins to form. While this damage limitation process is vital to keep the heart pumping and the blood moving, the patient’s problems have really only just begun.

Dr Sanjay Sinha wants to mend these hearts so that they work again: “Not just by a few percent improvement but by a hundred percent.” He leads a team of stem cell biologists in the Wellcome Trust-Medical Research Council Cambridge Stem Cell Institute. Over the past five years, with funding from the British Heart Foundation, they have been working with materials scientists Professors Ruth Cameron and Serena Best and biochemist Professor Richard Farndale on an innovative technique for growing heart patches in the laboratory – with the aim of using these to repair scarred and weakened cardiac tissue.
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Academic

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