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Zebrafish could hold the key to a cure for heart failure

The British Heart Foundation is to begin a major new research programme to find a cure for heart failure, a condition affecting 750,000 UK people. The charity hopes to harness the miraculous healing abilities of zebrafish, a species that is able to mend its own heart muscle.
Zebrafish have the ability to mend their own hearts
Zebrafish are useful to heart researchers for two reasons. One is because if you cut part of their heart away – it grows back! Understanding how this happens could help scientists think of ways to help hearts heal.

Zebrafish have the ability to regenerate fins, skin, the heart and the brain (in larval stages). Heart muscle regeneration does not make use of stem cells; instead, mature heart muscle cells regress to a stem-cell-like state and redifferentiate.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, told BBC : "Since the BHF's inception 50 years ago, we've made great strides in medical research to better diagnose and treat people with all kinds of heart problems.

"But the biggest issue that still eludes us is how to help people once their heart has been damaged by a heart attack.

"Scientifically, mending human hearts is an achievable goal and we really could make recovering from a heart attack as simple as getting over a broken leg."

Zebrafish have also been found to regenerate photoreceptor cells and retinal neurons following injury. The mechanisms of this regeneration are unknown. Researchers frequently amputate the dorsal and ventral tail fins and analyze their regrowth to test for mutations. This research is leading the scientific community in the understanding of healing/repair mechanisms in vertebrates.

It has also been found if the same fin is damaged enough times, the fish will grow a new fin which will have mutated only a small amount. Most scientists believe this is a defence mechanism to try to prevent the fin from being damaged again