Researchers are using stem cell research in an attempt to help repair damage caused by heart disease, according to a report published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) today.
Clinical studies have already indicated new tissue formation and improved function in patients who have received stem cell treatment after a heart attack, the report states. Though further investigation is required, this is a promising clinical start for this new technology.
And studies in the laboratory also show that embryonic stem cells can be made to develop into certain types of heart cells and could be used to restore cardiac function.
"The UK is a world-leader in the development of stem cell research, and very exciting possibilities are opened up by the research outlined in this report," said Dr Richard Barker, Director General of the ABPI.
"The pharmaceutical industry has already been hugely successful in developing a wide variety of medicines to tackle the different heart conditions that afflict people. However, much remains to be done and the prospect of restorative therapy being developed from the new, cutting-edge science of stem cell research is especially exciting."
Heart disease remains the biggest killer of people under 75 in the UK, and costs the NHS more than £2 billion every year. Heart and circulatory disorders alone account for 11 per cent of NHS expenditure - virtually the same percentage the NHS spends on all medicines for all diseases.
The report, Target Heart, points out that trends in heart disease continue to rise because of the ageing population and changes in lifestyle. Heart failure and angina are also responsible for a greater reduction in patients' quality of life than most other diseases.
Death rates from heart disease vary in different parts of the British Isles, with the highest rates in Scotland. Many forms of heart disease are a result of unhealthy lifestyle - including lack of exercise, excessive alcohol, smoking and poor diet - although there are certain conditions to which genes contribute.
A considerable range of medicines already exists which is, the report states, a clear sign of the progress that has been made by the pharmaceutical industry. However, it adds: "The next decade and beyond are likely to see the introduction of entirely new approaches to the treatment of heart disease."
In particular, it expects the focus of research to move increasingly from what happens in heart disease to why it happens - and, by understanding this better, to modify the underlying disease process.
Research reported in Target Heart that could produce innovative new medicines includes:
Target Heart has been written for the ABPI by the well-respected medical writer, Dr Mike Hall.
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410