RESEARCHERS in Oxford have identified how a new treatment in mice can regenerate the heart after a heart attack – preventing the onset of heart failure.

During a heart attack, the heart is starved of oxygen and heart muscle is damaged.

Immune cells which clear up dead and dying cells in the heart themselves cause further inflammation which can lead to heart failure.

The team from Oxford University found that injecting a protein called VEGF-C after heart attacks in mice significantly reduced the amount of damaged heart muscle, and allowed the heart to recover almost all of its pumping function.

It was found that the protein helped create new vessels in the heart which allowed the immune cells to be cleared away more quickly, thus reducing inflammation.

The research was funded by the British Heart Foundation.

Professor of regenerative medicine Paul Riley leads the British Heart Foundation Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Oxford and Cambridge.

He said: “This research has allowed us to start a drug discovery programme to develop drugs to promote the growth of lymphatic vessels and quickly clear immune cells. We hope to get a treatment we could give to people after a heart attack within 5-10 years.”