Fish that regrows cardiac tissue could mend human hearts
Scientists hope to end heart transplant surgery forever with the help of the amazing zebrafish.
Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 08:48 PM
SUPERFISH: Miracle fish from the Ganges River can repair 20 percent of its heart in just a week's time. (Photo: Wiki Commons)
A miracle fish that lives in the Ganges River, the holiest of all rivers to Hindus, could help cure heart disease and forever end the need for heart transplant surgery, according to The Independent.
Zebrafish are tiny tropical fish with a super power: they can regenerate damaged cardiac tissue at an incredible rate. In a week, a zebrafish can repair as much as 20 percent of its heart muscle. Now medical researchers working with the British Heart Foundation hope that insight into the fish's ability could lead to the development of new treatments that will one day allow the human heart to heal itself.
"Scientifically, mending human hearts is an achievable goal, and we really could make recovering from a heart attack as simple as getting over a broken leg," Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, told the Independent.
There are significant differences between the structure of the zebrafish heart and the human heart, but there are enough similarities to make such a breakthrough possible. For example, the hearts of zebrafish have only two chambers compared to the four found in human hearts, but the human heart also contains a significant number of latent stem cells that could be stimulated to regenerate cardiac tissue, just as a zebrafish heart does.
"We have a burgeoning epidemic of heart failure ... and we know that the zebrafish is able to regenerate its heart muscle to an extraordinary extent. There is a biological trick there that we need to learn from and adapt to human beings," Weissberg said.
Scientists have already uncovered a key molecule central to the zebrafish's biological trick. Zebrafish hearts contain a protein called thymosine beta-4, which seems to trigger the growth of the epicardium membrane that surrounds the heart. New heart-repairing drugs based on this protein are already being researched.
Although the development of this technology won't end the onset of heart disease itself (only a healthy diet and lifestyle can do that), it nevertheless offers hope that heart disease sufferers can eventually make a full recovery. It could also end the need for heart transplant surgery by enabling a heart attack survivor to regenerate the damaged cells.
Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., such a breakthrough could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year in America alone. Who would have thought that such a big problem could be solved by such a tiny fish?
Also on MNN: