Skip to main content

UCSD Researchers Discover Protein That Can Help Damaged Hearts

Photo caption:

Photo credit: UC San Diego

The image shows the 3D reconstruction of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the left ventricle of a pig heart after myocardial infarction but before treatment (top) and again 5 weeks following treatment with the patch + FSTL1. The viable heart muscle tissue is colored red and the scar is colored blue. The extent of heart muscle increased with treatment while the extent of scar tissue decreased.


Researchers from UC San Diego and Stanford have discovered a method of helping the heart repair itself after a heart attack.

Most people survive an initial heart attack. But their heart suffers permanent damage, and often leads to heart failure within a few years.

Researchers from UC San Diego and Stanford have identified a molecule that helps heart muscle cells regenerate after a heart attack.

The discovery was successfully tested in mice and pigs.

In the new study, researchers identified a protein, called Follistatin-like 1 (FSTL1), that’s made in the outer surface of the heart. When they put it in a patch and applied it to damaged animal heart muscle, the hearts regained close to normal function within eight weeks of treatment.

UC San Diego professor of bioengineering Mark Mercola said there are a handful of other molecules that can stimulate heart muscle cells to regenerate.

“But very few have actually been tested in adult animals," he said. "And of those, I’m not aware of any that have been tested in a pig. So, this sort of jumps ahead of the field.”

Mercola pointed out that it's important to test the intervention in more pigs before moving it to humans.

“Another thing we need to do before going to humans, is to know how long after injury will it work," he said. "In the pigs, we were doing it a week after injury. Will it work two months after injury?”

Mercola believes it might be possible to test the patch in human trials by 2017.


San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.