The models in turn are allowing researchers to study disease and understand what can go wrong, which is the first step towards developing cures. One of the most important diseases being modelled is myocardial ischaemia, which is the loss of blood supply to part of the heart muscle, leading ultimately to failure and potentially death if untreated.
Typically victims of heart failure never fully recover their former health and vigour, because part of the heart muscle has been permanently lost. However stem cell therapy holds the promise of being able to regenerate heart muscle destroyed by disease, but this will require careful testing to eliminate possibly dangerous side effects, such as cancer and disruption of normal heart rhythms, leading to arrhythmia, or irregular heart beats. Here again the heart models could play a vital role. They could be used to model stem cells behaviour, and see how they are incorporated into the heart, said Rodriguez.
The ESF workshop also had another dimension to kick start a Europe-wide effort to catch up with the US in this vital field. Oxford was once the world leader, for remarkably the first cardiac model was developed almost half a century ago in 1961 by Dennis Noble, who although now officially retired is still assisting Rodriguez and colleagues today. Nobles original model was of just of a single heart cell. But since the late 1990s, the models have been extended to the whole organ, incorporating multiple cell types.
The workshop identified three key issues that had to be addressed, according to Rodriguez. The first one was to improve the links within Europes scattered heart modelling community. The second two recommendations, less specific to Europe, were to create a standard and robust soft
|Contact: Blanca Rodriguez|
European Science Foundation