Detailed Map of Human Heart Could Be Key to Treating Cardiovascular Disease

Human Heart_Compressed

A new study published in Nature on Sept. 24 suggests that with a cellular and molecular map of the healthy human heart, experts may be able to better understand what goes wrong in cardiovascular disease.

The study was a part of the Human Cell Atlas initiative, which has a goal of mapping every cell type in the human body. With a molecular and cellular map of the heart, doctors will be better equipped to understand heart disease and provide more personalized medicine to their patients. In addition, this may lead to regenerative medicine in the future.

For the trial, researchers looked at almost 500,000 individual cells and cell nuclei from six different regions of healthy hearts from 14 organ donors. Using single cell technology, along with machine learning and imaging techniques, the experts were able to see which genes were switched “on” in each cell.

In the end, they determined that there were major differences in the cells in different areas of the heart. In addition, each area of the heart appears to have specific sets of cells, highlighting different developmental origins. The six areas of the organ contained 11 different cell types and the researchers uncovered more than 62 different cell states, which had never been seen before in detail.

"We have created the most detailed atlas of the human adult heart to date combining single cell technologies with artificial intelligence methods, to characterize almost half a million single cells,” said Dr. Carlos Talavera-Lopez, one of the first authors from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, and previously at the EMBL European Bioinformatics Institute. “For the first time, we could see exactly what each cell is doing in the human heart. This atlas shows that the cells in each of the four chambers of the heart behave differently to each other, mirroring the different functions of each area and helping us understand the healthy human heart."

The experts also studied the blood vessels running through the heart. The atlas showed how cells in these veins and arteries adapt to different pressures and locations.

"Millions of people are undergoing treatments for cardiovascular diseases,” said Professor Christine Seidman, a senior author from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Understanding the healthy heart will help us understand interactions between cell types and cell states that can allow lifelong function and how these differ in diseases. Ultimately, these fundamental insights may suggest specific targets that can lead to individualized therapies in the future, creating personalized medicines for heart disease and improving the effectiveness of treatments for each patient."

Although the U.S. has made progress in terms of reducing premature cardiac-related deaths, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association back in July showed that the pace of decline has slowed as of late.

According to the research, 61% of almost 1.6 million premature cardiac deaths from 1999 to 2017 were not in a hospital. Out-of-hospital deaths increased from 58.3% in 1999 to 61.5% in 2017.

"The United States experienced remarkable decline in cardiovascular disease mortality that was coined as one of the major public health accomplishments of the 20th century," said lead investigator Dr. Zhi-Jie Zheng. "Increasing numbers of out-of-hospital deaths and fatal heart attacks in younger age groups, coupled with a steady widening of disparity of socioeconomic and health environment factors affecting health care at the county level, appear to be the key drivers of the slowdown.”

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