A study has asserted that a fish that can repair its heart may hold clues for future treatments in people.
According to the BBC, scientists studying the Mexican tetra fish found three areas of the fish genome were involved in its ability to regenerate heart tissue. One gene however appeared to play a particularly key role in the process.
The researchers say they hope they will one day make it possible to heal heart muscle in patients who have had a heart attack. This is because hundreds of thousands of people in the UK reportedly live with heart failure and this is often as a result of a heart attack.
Because it is not possible for humans to regenerate their damaged, scarred heart muscle, people either have to live with the condition or may require a heart transplant.
For this study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, Dr Mathilda Mommersteeg and her team at the University of Oxford studied two types of Mexican tetra fish – river-dwellers that are able to self-heal their heart tissue, and cave-dwellers that cannot.
The cave fish, who once lived in the rivers of Northern Mexico, were washed into caves by floodwaters about 1.5 million years ago and evolved, losing their sight and colour because of living in perpetual darkness.
Comparing the two types of tetra fish, researchers found two genes – lrrc10 and caveolin – were much more active in the river fish following heart injury. Having discovered this, they switched off the lrrc10 gene in a different species of fish with self-healing abilities, the zebrafish.
With this gene no longer working properly, the zebrafish became unable to fully repair its heart without scarring.
Scar tissue stops the heart muscle from contracting properly and reduces the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
Both of these genes are said to be present in humans.