Scientists are developing a new pill which they say can trigger the heart to repair itself after an attack.
A team from University College London, which is behind the research, described their work as a major step towards perfecting a way to persuade the heart to rejuvenate.
Unlike other organs, it was thought until recently that, the heart lacked the ability to heal damage by itself.
That meant when someone had a heart attack, they had to live with the damage and their quality of life was often severely curtailed.
But, the researchers claimed that they may be just a decade away from developing a pill which could help the heart repair itself after an attack, the Daily Telegraph reported.
According to the researchers, they have discovered a protein, known as thymosin Beta 4, a key to heart growth in the young, which appears to reawaken dormant stem cells in the organ of adults.
Experiments on mice showed that it improved the performance of the heart by as much as 25 per cent. Now, they hope to begin human trials in a few years.
Lead researcher Professor Paul Riley said: “I could envisage a patient known to be at risk of a heart attack - either because of family history or warning signs spotted by their GP, taking an oral tablet, along the lines of a statin, which would prime their heart so that if they had a heart attack, the damage could be repaired.”
“It looks as if heart repair is a possibility,” said Professor Peter Weissberg of the British Heart Foundation which funded the research.
“Even five years ago people were saying, this is science fiction; this is fantasy. It is the start of a long process.”
“A small improvement in the heart condition will be a massive improvement in quality of life of the patient.”
Prof Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “To repair a damaged heart is one of the holy grails of heart research.
“This groundbreaking study shows adult hearts contain cells that, given the right stimulus, can mobilise and turn into new heart cells that might repair a damaged heart.”
The study was published in the journal, Nature.