Helping The Heart Heal Itself

Activating a long non-coding RNA molecule called SingHeart could be the key to triggering the regeneration and repair of damaged heart cells.

AsianScientist (Aug. 23, 2017) – Researchers in Singapore have identified a long intergenic non-coding ribonucleic acid (lincRNA) that regulates the ability of heart cells to repair themselves. Their findings, published in Nature Communications, could lead to new ways to treat heart disease.

Unlike most other cells in the human body, heart cells do not have the ability to self-repair or regenerate effectively, making heart attack and heart failure severe and debilitating. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide, with an estimated 17.7 million people dying from CVD in 2015. CVD also accounted for close to 30 percent of all deaths in Singapore in 2015.

“In contrast to a skin wound where the scab falls off and new skin grows over, the heart lacks such a capability to self-heal, and suffers a permanent scar instead. If the heart can be motivated to heal like the skin, consequences of a heart attack would be banished forever,” said Associate Professor Roger Foo, the study’s lead author, who is Principal Investigator at both GIS and NUHS’ Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) and Senior Consultant at the National University Heart Centre, Singapore (NUHCS).

In this project, the researchers used single cell technology to explore gene expression patterns in healthy and diseased hearts. The team discovered that a unique subpopulation of heart cells in diseased hearts activate gene programs related to heart cell division by targeting a lincRNA that they have named SingHeart. In addition, they also found the ‘brakes’ that prevent heart cells from dividing and thus self-healing. Targeting these ‘brakes’ could help trigger the repair and regeneration of heart cells.

“There has always been a suspicion that the heart holds the key to its own healing, regenerative and repair capability. But that ability seems to become blocked as soon as the heart is past its developmental stage. Our findings point to this potential block that when lifted, may allow the heart to heal itself,” explained Foo.

The study was driven by first author and former Senior Research Fellow at the GIS, Dr. Kelvin See, who is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher and Mack Technology Fellow at University of Pennsylvania.

“This cross-institutional research effort serves as a strong foundation for future heart studies. More importantly, uncovering barriers that stand in the way of heart cells’ self-healing process brings us another step closer to finding a cure for one of the world’s biggest killers,” said Professor Ng Huck Hui, Executive Director of GIS.

The article can be found at: See et al. (2017) Single Cardiomyocyte Nuclear Transcriptomes Reveal a LincRNA-regulated De-differentiation and Cell Cycle Stress-response In Vivo.


Source: A*STAR; Photo: Shutterstock.
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