Self-repairing heart tissue breakthrough brings hope for cardiac patients

Queensland researchers have used stem cells to create a beating human heart muscle, as well as heart tissue that is able to repair itself.

Doctors James Hudson and Enzo Porello from the University of Queensland worked with German researchers to create the samples in a laboratory, and will use them to study cardiac biology and diseases.

"The patented technology enables us to now perform experiments on human heart tissue," Dr Hudson said.

Up until now researchers have had no "living" tissue to study, but now scientists have a viable, functioning heart muscle to work on.

Dr Hudson said it would help them model the cardiovascular disease, screen new drugs and investigate heart repair.

"Immature tissues were found to have the ability to regenerate following injury — something that did not occur naturally for adults," he said.

"In the laboratory we used dry ice to kill part of the tissue while leaving the surrounding muscle healthy and viable.

"We found that when we injured those tissues — in contrast to what happens normally in the heart where you get a 'dead' patch — muscle function fully recovered because the cells regenerate.

"Our goal is to use this model to potentially find new therapeutic targets to enhance or induce cardiac regeneration in people with heart failure."

While the researchers have grown samples of beating heart tissue, they are not full size.

Dr Hudson said they were about 1 centimetre long and 1 millimetre wide.

He said about 54,000 Australians had heart attacks each year, with an average of about 23 deaths a day.

"Current pharmaceuticals can help those people in the shorter term, however some of those patients still progress to heart failure," Dr Hudson said.

"The holy grail goal of all this is to come up with new regenerative therapeutics to cure those patients."

The research team hopes to commercialise the technology, which it believes will help save lives.

The project has been supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the National Heart Foundation.