University of Sydney and partners discover new heart attack treatment

SOURCE: Designecologist/Unsplash
Heart diseases and heart attacks are the leading cause of deaths in Australia.

By U2B Staff 

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According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, coronary heart attack is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia, followed by other diseases and conditions such as dementia, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

It is said that more than 400,000 Australians have suffered from a heart disease at some point in their lives. The heart’s ability to function usually becomes adversely affected after an attack due to scar tissue forming on the organ.

Researchers from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research (WIMR) and the University of Sydney have recently conducted a revolutionary pre-clinical study on a large animal model that will change the way heart attacks are treated by directly targetting the scar tissue formations. 

The study showed positive results after infusing the scar tissue with a polypeptide protein called recombinant human platelet-derived growth factor-AB (rhPDGF-AB). 


It was found that infusing the protein into subjects that have had heart attacks significantly improved the quality of the scar, leading to the formation of new blood vessels in the heart and reduced rates of heart arrhythmia, which is a dangerous condition of irregularities of heart rhythm that can cause sudden death. 

“This is an entirely new approach with no current treatments able to change scar in this way. By improving cardiac function and scar formation following heart attack, treatment with rhPDGF-AB led to an overall increase in survival rate in our study,” said WIMR Co-Director and University of Sydney Associate Professor James Chong who spearheaded the project.  

“While the treatment did not affect overall scar size, importantly we found that rhPDGF-AB led to increased scar collagen fibre alignment and strength. This improved heart function after the heart attack.”

Chong further elaborated that after ten years in development, the research project has now collected compelling data in two species that prove the effectiveness of this treatment. 

heart attack
After a heart attack, the heart’s ability to function deteriorates. Source: Richard Catabay/Unsplash.

Following a heart attack, the heart muscle becomes damaged, causing a thick scar tissue to form. This deteriorates the heart’s ability to function efficiently and can increase the risk of heart failure and even cause sudden cardiac death. 

The novel rhPDGF-AB treatment functions very differently from current treatments for heart attacks which aim to restore blood and oxygen supply to the heart as quickly as possible to reduce scarring. While this improves clinical outcomes, it was found that up to a quarter of patients who experienced their first heart attack will eventually develop heart failure within a year. 

“While we have treatment protocols in place, it’s clear that there is an urgent, unmet need for additional treatments to improve patient outcomes particularly after large heart attacks,” added Chong. 

“Some further animal studies are required to clarify safety and dosing. Then we can start looking towards clinical trials in humans very soon. rhPDGF-AB is clearly a promising therapeutic option, and could potentially be used alongside existing treatments to improve heart attack patient outcomes and survival rates.”

“We now hope to further investigate the treatment, including whether it could be used in other organ systems impacted by scar tissue, such as the kidneys.”


This research project was conducted in collaboration with industry partners The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Westmead Hospital, Kolling Institute of Medical Research, and QIMR Beghofer

The project was also funded by the New South Wales Office of Health and Medical Research Heart Foundation, NSW Cardiovascular Research Network, and Stem Cells Australia. 

This study was recently published in the leading journal Science Translational Medicine