Newborns can heal hearts

For a few short days after birth, newborn babies offer clues for healing hearts as the heart can regenerate damaged tissue.

A winner of the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia’s Metcalf Prizes, Associate Professor Enzo Porrello wants to understand why this ability turns off, so that he and colleagues can switch it back on to heal broken hearts.

“I recently showed that the hearts of newborn mice can regenerate after a heart attack,” Professor Porrello said. “But this self-healing ability rapidly diminishes in the days after birth.

“Understanding regeneration could lead to new treatments for different types of heart disease, the world’s biggest killer, from birth defects to heart attacks late in life,” said Professor Porrello, group leader of cardiac regeneration, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and a Senior Research Fellow, University of Melbourne.

Professor Porrello thinks there is a similar capacity in humans. He is using stem cells to recreate the development of the heart in the lab to study the processes and the genes involved in turning self-healing on and off.

He wants to develop drugs that can stimulate heart muscle cells to rebuild after a heart attack.

He is also part of a new consortium that aims to engineer new working heart tissue to treat children with heart disease, made from their own stem cells.

The Metcalf awards are named after the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC. During his 50-year career, Professor Metcalf helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

Professor Richard Larkins AO will formally present the 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research at an event in Melbourne on Friday, November 30, 2018.

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