It begins with discomfort or pain in the middle of the chest, and shortness of breath. A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the muscular walls of the heart is severely reduced or cut off. This terrifying experience happens to eight hundred thousand Americans every year and can be deadly.
For those who survive, the heart is left permanently damaged, with lasting health effects. The damage occurs in the first six hours after the heart attack, as affected cardiac tissue dies and scar tissue forms. Some medical researchers are looking for new ways to prevent this damage from happening. If a treatment like this were possible, it would leave heart attack survivors in much better condition.
In 2023 a team of American biomedical researchers reported major progress towards this goal. The researchers were studying a biomaterial made from the lattice of specialized proteins found in the spaces between the cells of the heart. These proteins provide heart muscle with structural support. The biomaterial can be made into a gel that can be delivered to the heart by injection into blood vessels. Such materials are also known, in other cases, to aid tissue regeneration.
To study its effects, the researchers caused heart attacks in anesthetized rodents and pigs, and tested the consequences of injecting the biomaterial into the blood vessels of the heart afterwards. The results of these animal experiments were promising. The substance binds to cells of the heart, accelerating the healing of its blood vessels. Inflammation and damage to the heart were reduced. The researchers are now seeking approval to begin clinical trials to see if the treatment can benefit human heart attack survivors.