Millions of Americans suffer from heart failure. That's when the heart loses it's ability to pump enough blood. And often that means waiting in line for a heart transplant. There is no cure, but researchers at the University of California at San Diego may be on the right track with an experimental gene therapy. "The hope is, if we stay on course, that within 18 months or so, we may be able to begin to design studies that will be used in patients with severe heart failure," says Ken Chien, UCSD Institute of Molecular Medicine.
The treatment involves inserting an altered gene into the heart that disables the defective gene. The treatment has already shown real promise in hamsters who naturally suffer from heart failure. In mice that suffered a massive heart attack, it stopped the disease from getting worse and improved the heart's ability to pump blood.
This type of gene therapy will never give patients with heart failure, like Thomas Plunkett, a heart that is as good as new. But it may make the part of their heart that isn't damaged work a lot better, longer.
Again, it will be at least a year before researchers are ready to try it on people. The sickest patients, those who can not get a heart transplant, would be first in line for this study. If it works, patients might see improvement a month after treatment begins.