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UCSD prof.: Pig gel reduces animal heart failure with test planned in people

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Muscle damaged by heart attacks can be repaired by an injectable gel that forms scaffolding, attracting stem cells and blood vessels in a study that may lead to a new method for reducing heart failure.

The technique, studied in animals such as pigs, will be tested in humans in Europe in the second half of the year, said Karen Christman, study author and assistant bioengineering professor at the University of California, San Diego.

"What we hope is we can really improve the quality of life of patients after they have a heart attack," Christman said in an interview. "There's nothing do be done to prevent them from going into heart failure."

The therapy is being developed by San Diego-based Ventrix Inc., a closely held company co-founded by Christman.

The hydrogel is formed from pig cardiac tissue that's cleansed and stripped of heart muscle cells. It can be injected into the heart through a catheter, and forms a porous structure that encourages the heart to heal itself.

About 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure, a condition where the heart can't pump enough blood to support other organs in the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment costs the country $34.4 billion annually. About half of all patients with the condition die within five years of being diagnosed, the CDC said.

In the study published Wednesday by the journal Science Translational Medicine, six pigs treated with the gel had normal rates of heart strength compared with four control animals with below normal rates, Christman said.

The study measured ejection fraction rates, or how much blood the left ventricle pushes out with each contraction. Normal rates for people are 55 to 70, according to the American Heart Association. The pigs treated with the gel therapy had rates of 74 percent while the others had rates of 43 percent, she said.

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