Heart disease is the number-one cause of death worldwide. Despite its strength, the heart is one of the least regenerative organs in the body, and heart attacks irreparably damage crucial muscle cells. The scar tissue left behind can cause chronic heart failure.
University of Washington researchers Chuck Murry, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael Laflamme, M.D., Ph.D., have long been hunting for the best way to repair damage after a heart attack. Their response: Grow new heart cells. The duo won global recognition in the spring of 2014 when they published results of trials in monkeys showing 40 percent regeneration of damaged tissue after an injection of human embryonic stem cells—10 times the amount of regeneration other researchers had previously been able to achieve. Now, they are racing to get treatment approved for human trials by the FDA, which Murry estimates will happen within three years.
To help that process along, they’ve started the University of Washington’s Heart Regeneration Program, which behaves like a biotech startup within the university, and allows Murry and Laflamme to hire top-tier researchers whose time is exclusively devoted to perfecting a therapy they hope will help millions.
“I’ve always liked to work on common things that can have a big impact,” Murry says. If this research continues to succeed, it will be hard to measure how enormous the impact will be.