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Pig proteins show potential for human heart health

posted 29 Mar 2012, 13:25 by Mpelembe   [ updated 29 Mar 2012, 13:26 ]

Researchers have developed a heart repair hydrogel made from proteins found in pig hearts. The bioengineering team from San Diego hope that with further testing the gel could prove to be a powerful tool in preventing repeat heart attacks in humans - a leading killer for people that suffer from cardiovascular disease. Ben Gruber has more.

REUTERS/ UC SAN DIEGO/ MAYO CLINIC  - It's not much to look at in the laboratory, but hydrogel has the potential to save millions of lives. It's the creation of scientists at the University of California in San Diego and it's designed to repair tissue damaged by a heart attack.

When a heart attack occurs the body cannot repair damaged tissue on its own. Instead scar tissue forms - leaving the heart permanently weakened and more vulnerable in future attacks. But with hydrogel, bio-engineer, Karen Christman thinks she has found a way for the heart to repair itself.

She says the gel can be injected into the damaged parts of the heart after an attack. There, it forms a scaffold for new cell growth instead of scar tissue.


"Once it gets into the heart it sets into this porous and fibrous scaffold and replaces this extra cellular matrix framework that has been removed after a heart attack, when the body degrades it initially. And so here we come in and replace it with actually a cardiac-specific extra cellular matrix framework, and that promotes cells to come in to that area and changes that negative re-modelling process that happens after a heart attack."

Christman says that "negative re-modelling" is a big reason why more 7 million people die each year of heart attacks.

Jean Wang is a graduate student working on the research. She says the ingredients for the new scaffold comes from an unlikely source…


"We start by getting a pig's heart and we chop it up into tiny pieces and we put it into these beakers with detergent in it. As it's spinning, the detergent removes the cells from the tissue so that only the proteins are left."

Those proteins are then milled into a powder and treated with enzymes that convert it into a liquid. Christman says these liquid proteins turn into a gel when introduced into the body. Initial trials conducted on rats and pigs had promising results - the gel successfully formed a foundation for new cell growth. Researcher Todd Johnson, says the hydrogel's uncomplicated design makes it easy to handle and administer.


"The material is not considered living. It does not itself have any cellular components, so it's something that can easily be stored, shipped and maintained and then readily prepared for injection. It's something that is very easy to work with."

Christman hopes to start human trials within a year. She says her goal is to give heart attack victims a better chance at survival.

Ben Gruber, Reuters.