A new 'world first' treatment for heart patients could soon result in much better outcomes for surgery, and savings of millions of dollars in health care costs. (CBC)

Important medical advance for heart patient treatment


Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide with heart attacks as a major concern, This is when blood flow to the heart itself is restricted which can lead in some cases to heart failure. In Canada there are approximately 600,000 patients living with advanced heart disease.

In what is being hailed as a “world first”, researchers in Canada have developed a new treatment that can easily help restore a percentage of heart function, preventing or greatly delaying heart failure

Emilio Alarcon (PhD, MRSC) was a co-lead supervisor. He is a Principal Investigator and Laboratory Director, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, and an assistant professor in the university’s  Faculty of Medicine.


The university scientists research led by Professors Alarcon and Erik Suuronen, was published in the journal Nature Communications, under the title Injectable human recombinant collagen matrices limit adverse remodeling and improve cardiac function after myocardial infarction, (open source access HERE)

Professor Emilio Alarcon, University of Ottawa Heart Institute UOHI (Christopher McTiernan, BEaTS lab)

Normally in a heart attack, the area of the heart affected is damaged as the cells, deprived of oxygen and nutrients, cease to function and die.

The damaged area ends up akin to scar tissue thickened and without elasticity limiting its ability to pump blood.

The research team has developed a “gel” of recombinant human collagen which can be injected directly into the heart, and which can improve elasticity and create an environment for new cells to help restore function while also limiting the spread of the damage.

Dr. Emilio Alarcon (8th from left) poses with members of his research team. He has travelled the world, he says, to assemble this talented group. From left to right: Antony El-Khoury (NSERC summer fellow), Madison Bak (MSc student), Brook Biniam (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)), Ashley Baldwin (lab manager), Dr Veronika Sedlakova (postdoctoral fellow), Justina Pupkaite (PhD student), Sarah Mclaughlin (PhD student), Dr. Christopher McTiernan (postdoctoral fellow), Dr. Erik Suuronen (director, BEaTS), Maxime Comtois-Bona (co-op student), Dr. Marcelo Muñoz (postdoctoral fellow) and Alex Ross (MSc Student). Missing from photo: Dr. Marc Ruel, Zohra Khatoon, Erik Jacques, David Cortes, Michel Grenier, Keshav Goel – photo credit: uOttawa Faculty of Medicine

Developed in conjunction with fellow scientist Erik Suuronen  and the BioEngineering and Therapeutic Solutions (BEaTS) laboratory of the UOHI

the gel helps restore elasticity to the damaged area in addition to other beneficial action. Alarcon says, “The treatment works, in part, by increasing the number of cardiac muscle cells and blood capillaries in the tissue surrounding the damaged area. The gel also promotes the recruitment of more wound healing cells to the site of injury.”

Schematic representation for the human recombinant collagen-based therapy for cardiac tissue repair (Credit Image: Ella Maru Studio)

While bypass surgery and drugs are the common treatment and work very well, a certain percentage of patients will nevertheless go on to have an enlarged heart and then heart failure.

In animal model trials using the human protein gel the damage can be contained, or the potential failure delayed significantly while a donor heart can be obtained.

(Sarah McLaughlin et al.,  Injectable human recombinant collagen matrices limit adverse remodeling and improve cardiac function after myocardial infarction- Nature Communications)

Quoted in a Heart Institute press release, Dr. Marc Ruel, Division Head of Cardiac Surgery at the UOHI, and co-author of the paper said,

“As people with damaged hearts are living longer, the incidence of heart failure is increasing. Therefore, a treatment capable of recovering cardiac function and preventing heart failure would have a tremendous health and societal impact worldwide”.

The team is now working with Health Canada and other agencies towards clinical trials which could result in treatment being available within perhaps two or three years.

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