Scientists have developed a gene therapy that can induce heart cells to regenerate and repair the damage caused by a heart attack.
Myocardial infarction, more commonly known as a heart attack, caused by the sudden blocking of one of the cardiac coronary arteries, is the main cause of heart failure.
The condition affects over 23 million population in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
At present, when a patient survives a heart attack, they are left with permanent structural damage to their heart through the formation of a scar, which can lead to heart failure in the future, according to the researchers from King's College London in the UK.
"It is a very exciting moment for the field. After so many unsuccessful attempts at regenerating the heart using stem cells, which all have failed so far, for the first time we see real cardiac repair in a large animal," said Mauro Giacca, from King's College London.
In the study, published in the journal Nature, researchers delivered a small piece of genetic material, called microRNA-199, to the heart of pigs, after a myocardial infarction which resulted in the almost complete recovery of cardiac function at one month later.
This is the first demonstration that cardiac regeneration can be achieved by administering an effective genetic drug that stimulates cardiac regeneration in a large animal, with heart anatomy and physiology like that of humans.
"It will take some time before we can proceed to clinical trials," Giacca said in a statement.
"We still need to learn how to administer the RNA as a synthetic molecule in large animals and then in patients, but we already know this works well in mice," he said.