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Sunday 27th May 2018

Heart muscle regeneration found

3rd April 2009

Researchers in Sweden have made a new discovery by examining traces of carbon 14 - an isotope used in carbon dating - in heart tissue.

heart surgery

The finding makes use of the fact that carbon 14, which is often used to tell the age of fossils, increased dramatically in the atmosphere after nuclear weapons began to be tested during the Cold War.

The Cold War tests, which took place above ground prior to the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, increased the presence of the radioactive isotope carbon 14 in the atmosphere, and hence in people's bodies.

By examining cadavers for carbon 14, scientists were able to establish that heart muscle cells regenerate over a person's lifespan, meaning that better treatment for heart attacks may soon be on the way.

The finding directly contradicts the long-held belief that the heart cells remain the same until death.

Ratan Bhardwaj of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said that the atomic bombs let loose a demonstrable amount of C14, which could be traced in order to measure the age of heart cells.

Dividing cells use carbon 14 to build DNA, a fact which allowed scientists to trace the age of heart cells in people born after the first nuclear tests were conducted in 1955.

They reasoned that, if a cell did not contain carbon 14, it would not have divided after a person's birth.

They also inferred the times at which the cells had been formed by matching their levels of carbon 14 to those found in the atmosphere at a particular time.

The researchers were thus able to use the records of carbon 14 levels to make a precise measurement of the regeneration rate of cells in the heart.

They found that the rate changes as a person ages, and that a 20-year-old is able to regenerate about 1% of his or her heart cells over the course of a year.

Bhardwaj said that the amazing thing about the discovery was that the level of regeneration was not zero.

Chuck Murry of the University of Washington said that the longstanding view was that the heart was one of the least regenerative organs in the body. The research does indeed show that heart muscle cells are very long lived.

He said that the more optimistic side of the finding was that if scientists could work out how the regeneration works at a physiological level, they could exploit it therapeutically.

Scientists may soon have new methods for regenerating the heart after an incident of heart attack or trauma.

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