The Italian Almanac

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Italian Science - May 29

Italian researchers have engineered mice able to repair their own hearts thanks to a genetically implanted growth factor. "The mice's recovery was extraordinary, something I've never seen before," world-famous stem-cell researcher Nadia Rosenthal told a Rome conference.

Rosenthal, who works at a molecular biology lab outside Rome, said she inserted the gene for insulin growth factor one (IGF-1) into the mouse DNA. This meant the mice produced IGF-1 continually and not just when it was needed by the body.

Thanks to the constant presence of the growth factor, Rosenthal said, the mice recovered at an "astonishing" rate after an artificially induced heart attack. What's more, she said, the scars left in the heart - the reason why many patients have weak hearts after an attack - healed over quickly as healthy tissue replaced the injured fibres.

Asked how the growth factor worked, Rosenthal said: "It's possible that the IGF-1 calls up stem cells from bone marrow or perhaps it stimulates the cardiac stem cells that are already there. Yet again, it may simply patch up the post-attack tissue without actually getting it to regenerate. However it works, the important thing is this: if you get it working straight after an attack, you achieve much more significant repairs and you prevent the formation of scar tissue".

She voiced the hope that mouse heart repairs would eventually be replicated in humans.