London: Researchers have claimed that they have discovered a small protein molecule in zebrafish which it uses to repair its damaged cardiac muscle, reported The Independent.
Zebrafish is a small tropical fish found in Ganga, Hindus’ holy river. It is also widely found in aquariums these days. A zebrafish can repair up to 20 per cent of its heart muscle within weeks of it being lost.
Scientists believe that the zebrafish`s astonishing ability to regenerate its cardiac muscle might lead to the discovery of new drugs and treatments that will one day allow the human heart to heal itself after being damaged during a heart attack.
The research might one day lead to an alternative to the transplant operations that are the only hope for thousands of patients now.
"If we could find a biological way of repairing damaged cardiac muscle, it would certainly obviate the need for heart transplants for some people who have had heart attacks," The Independent quoted Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, as saying. The BHF, the biggest funder of heart research in Britain, announced a drive to raise an extra GBP 50 million over the next five years for spending on new developments in regenerative medicine, including studies into the innate repair mechanisms of the striped zebrafish.
Over the last few decades, death rates from heart attack have fallen but heart failure rates have risen. In 1961, an estimated 100,000 people in the UK had heart failure, but an ageing population and the fact that more people are now surviving heart attacks has pushed this figure up to more than 750,000 today.
Professor Paul Riley of the Institute of Child Health, University College London, said that a protein molecule called thymosine beta-4, which is found in zebrafish, could become the basis of a new heart-repair drug. The protein seems to control the growth of the epicardium membrane, which surrounds the heart, so that it triggers the formation of new cardiac tissue and blood vessels.
Professor Weissberg warned that it could still take many years before the research leads to effective treatments: "In terms of main-line treatment, this might be eight to 10 years away. But if somebody cracks it in the next year or two things could accelerate very fast.