Researchers now hope their findings can be replicated in larger trials
In a world first, a new trial in Cork has shown how a single injection could repair damaged hearts.
Around 20% of people who suffer heart attacks experience ongoing difficulties as a result of lasting damage to the heart muscle.
In the recent clinical trial, two different low doses of a protein called insulin-like growth factor (IGF1) were injected into patients' hearts, while others received a placebo.
The patients who received a higher dose were found to have had 'improved remodelling of their heart muscle' in follow-up examinations.
While 47 patients took part in the recent trial, the people behind the research now hope their findings can be replicated.
Researchers suggest that if the growth factor is found to be effective in further trials, it could improve the quality of life and life expectancy of patients - as well as potentially reduce costs of ongoing care for the health service.
Noel Caplice - Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences at University College Cork and Consultant cardiologist at Cork University Hospital - led the trial.
He explained: "This pilot trial is the first of its kind worldwide showing that single injection of low dose IGF1 is safe and can improve cardiac repair after a large heart attack.
“We hope that these findings can be replicated in potentially larger trials of many hundred subjects in the future. A significant minority of our patients currently remain unwell after a large heart attack despite best clinical practice and we are excited by the possibility that cardiac repair therapy may help these patients."
He added that they were looking to compare "really impressive" animal data with human trials.
"This trial confirms many aspects of that," he noted.
John Nolan from New Ross suffered a heart attack in December 2014, and says he feels 'blessed' to have been involved in the trial.
He said: "I had confidence that good would come from it, in terms of how they explained it to me. Looking back on it now, I feel it was the right choice.”
The findings of the study are being presented at a major conference in Paris today.