Scientists at the Bristol Heart Institution have found that a naturally-occurring protein could have a protective effect on heart muscle cells after a heart attack.
The new research shows that Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) could provide a way of protecting heart attack victims from further damage.
Heart attacks cause massive cell death in and around the affected area which places extra stress on the remaining live cells leading to enlargement of the heart and eventual heart failure.
Dr Constanza Emanueli, who led the research team, found that injecting the gene for NGF around the dead cell area prompted increased cell survival.
Initially the procedure is being successfully tested on rats but Dr Emanueli is hopeful that it will work in a similar manner on humans.
Speaking to the BBC, Professor Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation, which provided funding for the work, said: "Dr Emanueli's research opens up the exciting and unexpected possibility of helping to repair damaged hearts by using a natural factor previously only thought to help nerves grow."
According to the NHS, heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, with approximately 300,000 people suffering a heart attack each year.
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