Researchers working to repair damaged hearts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Five million Americans are living with heart failure and 715,000 will have a heart attack this year.

Now, scientists are working on a new way to repair those damaged hearts.

It weighs 10 ounces, on average beats 72-times a minute, and pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through the body every day.

The heart is an amazing organ, but when it encounters an attack, this body part falls flat.

Doctor Charles Murry, Professor of Pathology, Bioengineering, and Medicine/Cardiology at Murry Lab, says, "the heart is very poor at self-repair. It's one of the least regenerative organs in the body."

Researchers at the University of Washington are studying a new way to fix hearts.

Dr. Murry says, "Our idea is to try to use stem cells in such a way that we can actually re-muscularize the heart after, after it's become injured in some way."

First, they place embryonic stem cells along with other special cells in a petri dish so they grow and divide.

James Fugate, Lab Manager and Research Scientist at Murry Lab, says, "in about two weeks, you will see in the dish spontaneously beating human heart muscle."

Human heart muscle cells are put into a matrix where they form into a heart patch.

Dr. Murry says, "We can take these patches and attach them to the surface of the heart, kind of like a muscular Band-Aid."

The patch helps cells form new tissue in the heart. It could be used in patients who have had a heart attack or those with heart failure.

"It's like growing back parts of your heart that you lost due to disease,” Dr. Murry says.

The heart patch is being studied in the lab in animals. It prevented heart failure after a heart attack beating 120 times a minute in monkeys.

Dr. Murry hopes to see the same kinds of results in humans, and if they do, it will revolutionize the way our most vital organ heals.
One of the major obstacles researchers need to overcome is the likelihood that people's immune systems would reject the embryonic stem cell transplant unless they take medications for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Murry hopes to one day create new tissues from a person's own cells.


REPORT: MB # 3731

BACKGROUND: Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States and has become one of the most serious public health issues facing Americans. It is a broad term which refers to a variety of related heart conditions, including heart attack, ischemic stroke, and heart failure. The disease kills 600,000 people each year, which is about one out of every four deaths. The most common type of heart disease is called coronary artery disease. It occurs when cholesterol deposits, called plaque, build up in your arteries, causing them to narrow or become blocked. The narrowing or blockage can lead to heart attack, heart failure, or arrhythmia. Once any of these occur, the heart has a difficult time rebuilding its strength. (Source:
CAUSES: Heart disease is the result of a variety of factors, some of which are out of your control. These include age (82 percent of those who died from coronary artery disease were over the age of 65), gender (males are at a higher risk for having heart attacks, and at earlier ages than women), and genetics (those with a family history of heart problems are much more likely to develop other risk factors). But there are some factors you can control. These include weight, tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. (Source:
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the Murry Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle, are now researching the ability of embryonic stem cells to treat the effects of heart disease. Embryonic stem cells have the ability to turn into any kind of cell in the body. So researchers have been able to use these cells to create beating heart cells outside of the body. These cells could one day be injected into the heart, and could essentially act as a Band-Aid, covering the parts of the heart injured by a heart attack. The cells would be able to re-muscularize the heart, which it cannot do by itself. These cells would be used in an effort to prevent heart failure in patients who have had a heart attack. Currently, the stem cell treatment has only been performed on mice, guinea pigs, rats, and non-human primates. Doctors believe it will be 4 years until human trials. (Source: Dr. Charles Murry)

Charles E. Murry, MD, PhD
Arra and Eva Woods Professor of Pathology, Bioengineering and Medicine/Cardiology
Director, Center for Cardiovascular Biology
Co-Director, Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
University of Washington
(206) 616-8685

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