Injected Gel Might Someday Help Treat Heart Failure

Early study of pigs found protective effect after heart attack

  • Print

THURSDAY, Feb. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Attempting to reduce the risk for heart failure following a heart attack, early research on swine takes a new protective approach: targeted injection of naturally occurring "protein inhibitors" directly into the heart.

The invasive procedure has only been attempted on adult pigs, whose hearts are considered comparable to that of humans.

But preliminary success in staving off heart failure in animal research already amounts to a "proof of concept," the investigators said, demonstrating that such a technique could work in people, too. And maybe even improve upon current oral medications.

Study co-author Dr. Francis Spinale, director of the Cardiovascular Translational Research Center at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, described how heart attacks can lead to heart failure in humans.

"The heart is composed of four chambers, with the one that pumps oxygenated blood to the body termed the left ventricle," Spinale said. "[And] a change in the shape of the left ventricle is one of the key factors that physicians measure in patients following a heart attack."

The stress of a heart attack typically sends problematic tissue-destroying enzymes -- known as "MMPs" -- into overdrive, while at the same time blocking the activity of the body's helpful enzymes, known as "TIMPs," Spinale explained.

The result: a swelling of the left ventricle from football shape to basketball shape, followed by structural collapse, he said. This ultimately leads to heart failure, in which the heart loses the ability to pump sufficient blood throughout the body.

This worst-case scenario, Spinale said, is the drive behind his team's research: "to develop a strategy to restore the balance between MMPs and TIMPs in hopes of stopping this left ventricle remodeling process after a heart attack."

Spinale, who's also with Dorn Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., and colleagues published their findings in the Feb. 12 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

To reign in MMP activity, the investigators first combined a gelatin-type recipe containing hyaluronic acid with a slow-releasing compound of a specific TIMP called "TIMP-3."

Then, over a two-week period, the hearts of pigs that had been induced to have a heart attack were injected with either the TIMP-3/hydrogel mix or a non-medicinal saline solution.

In the weeks following a TIMP-3/hydrogel injection, the pigs that received it were found to have improved heart function, sidestepping the dangerous breakdown and reshaping of the heart's left ventricle.

The study team suggests that the new approach is a hopeful bet for human patients, given the similarity of pig and human heart anatomy, and previous indications that hydrogels can be safely injected into the human heart.

Experts note, however, that research with animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, an American Heart Association spokeswoman, said it remains to be seen just how effective the new hydrogel treatment will prove to be in human patients.

"It's very important to talk about the fact that this is an animal study, which means that it's not yet ready for prime time. But certainly this is promising research," said Goldberg, medical director of the women's heart program at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

"We're always looking for ways that we can avoid damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack," she said. "Right now we use [medications such as] ACE inhibitors and beta blockers to prevent heart failure. Before those came on board as options, more people had heart failure as a result of their heart attacks than is the case today.

"So this approach should be seen as another idea, an interesting therapy for the future, that may help us continue to bring heart failure risk further under control," Goldberg said.

More information

To learn more about heart failure, visit the American Heart Association.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Doug Speirs auditions for 14th Annual Big Daddy Tazz and Friends

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Someone or thing is taking advantage of the inactivity at Kapyong Barracks,hundreds of Canada Geese-See Joe Bryksa’s goose a day for 30 days challenge- Day 15- May 22, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Should tobogganing be banned on city land?

View Results

Ads by Google