Singapore researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery capable of benefiting heart failure and heart attack patients globally. This new finding could potentially promote damaged heart cells to self-repair.

‘Singheart’ acts as brake to prevent cells from healing

Scientists from the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the National University Health System (NUHS) believe that a novel ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecule—which they named “Singheart”—is found in greater amounts in the heart cells of patients with heart diseases. They also hypothesised that larger quantities of Singheart RNA are found in older patients.

During this three-year period of studying mice, they discovered that this single-stranded equivalent of DNA possesses the ability to control and regulate other genes. It serves as a “brake” to prevent heart cells from dividing, regenerating—and hence, self-healing.

Thus, by injecting viruses carrying artificial and complementary molecules into heart cells, the team neutralised the RNA by blocking the chemical compound. This led to the regeneration of cells in this region.

The Singaporean study marks the first of its kind for the country, and the first in the world to link the role of RNA to heart failure. Attributing to this, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the principal cause of death universally. In Singapore, heart diseases account for almost 30% of overall mortality annually.

Human trials necessary to translate findings for application

Lead author and the principal investigator at both GIS and NUHS’ Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI) Associate Professor Roger Foo related the heart’s healing process to that of the skin.

“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,” he explained.

“There has always been a suspicion that the heart holds the key to its own healing. If it can be motivated to heal like the skin, consequences of a heart attack would be banished forever,” he continued.

Published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, the study encompassed conducting tests on adult mice—in which heart attacks were induced before they were injected with complementary molecules. Fascinatingly, the mice’s heart had completely healed a month later.

Human trials are in the pipeline—specifically, within the next five years—to confirm the suspicion that human heart cells hold an equivalent of Singheart.

Dr Calvin Chin, a consultant at the National Heart Centre Singapore's department of cardiology said, “The study... has deepened our understanding of how some proteins interact in cell regeneration. If the next step is proven successful, it may hold important clinical implications in targeted therapies for heart failure.”

The Asian Network for Translation Research and Cardiovascular Trials programme funded this scientific study—supported by the National Medical Research Council of Singapore and the Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) Young Investigator Grant. The grant was awarded to Dr Kelvin See, first author and GIS’ former senior research fellow, last year. MIMS

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