Researchers at Newcastle University have made a potentially revolutionary discovery that could expand the donor pool for heart transplants and bring new hope to hundreds of people awaiting a lifesaving procedure. The study, led by Dr. Gavin Richardson, investigates the phenomenon of ‘Zombie’ cells and their impact on heart health.
‘Zombie’ cells, or senescent cells, are not quite dead, yet they aren’t functioning properly. These cells secrete molecules affecting neighbouring cells, causing them to adopt similar dysfunctional characteristics. As per the British Heart Foundation, these ‘Zombie’ cells contribute to inflammation and scar tissue formation in the heart muscle, potentially escalating the risk of heart diseases.
Interestingly, the American Heart Association reports that heart disease accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths in the U.S. By identifying the ‘signature’ that ‘Zombie’ cells leave in the blood, the team aims to learn more about the biological age of hearts. The intention is to prove that age isn’t the most accurate determinant of heart health, challenging the current practice of excluding hearts from donors aged over 65 from transplantation.
Lastly, the team is optimistic about the implications of their research. With a more in-depth understanding of these cellular markers, we could see an increase in the utilization of previously rejected older donor hearts. This novel approach could be the game-changer needed to decrease the daunting numbers of people on heart transplant waiting lists.