Interestingly enough, the human body is pretty creative when it comes to fixing itself, reason for which scientists have been looking into how the heart self-repairs after a heart attack.
By doing this, they hope to find the way to new, efficient treatments for cardiovascular diseases.
That being said, a new study has shown that the immune response of the body and the lymphatic system are really important when it comes to the heart fixing itself after damage to the heart muscle caused by heart attacks.
The researchers report that the key was discovering the role macrophages – cells that can initiate helpful inflammation responses or destroy bacteria – play in all of this.
According to them, they produce a type of protein called VEGFC that acts as first responders to a scene following a heart attack.
Pathologist Edward Thorp explains that “We found that macrophages, or immune cells that rush to the heart following a heart attack to ‘eat’ the damaged or dead tissue, also induce vascular endothelial growth factor C that triggers the formation of brand new lymphatic vessels and promotes healing.”
The scientists describe it as a Jekyll and Hyde situation where the good macrophages produce VEGFC while the bad ones cause an inflammatory response that can go on and cause even more harm to the heart and tissue surrounding it.
For the heart to repair itself fully, those dying cells have to get cleared away through a process known as efferocytosis and in which macrophages play a significant role.
The scientists used mice in the lab to try and determine the way the right sort of VEGFC-producing macrophages did a good job fixing the heart.
With that being said, the next step would be looking into how to increase the number of helpful macrophages and how to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the damaging macrophages.
Thorp states that “Our challenge is now to find a way either to administer VEGFC or coax these macrophages to induce more VEGFC, in order to speed the repair process.”
Vascular biologist Guillermo Oliver also shared that “We are working to understand more about the progression to heart failure following a heart attack, in order to intervene early on and reset the course to cardiac repair.”