Washington: To understand how it functions and to shed light on what goes awry in cardiovascular disease, scientists have created a detailed cellular and molecular map of the healthy heart. Scientists have created a detailed cellular and molecular map of the healthy human heart to understand how this vital organ functions and to shed light on what goes awry in cardiovascular disease.
The work, published in the journal Nature, was led by investigators at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Germany, Imperial College London, and their global collaborators.
The team analysed almost a half-million individual cells to build the most extensive cell atlas of the human heart to date. The atlas shows the huge diversity of cells and reveals heart muscle cell types, cardiac protective immune cells, and an intricate network of blood vessels. It also predicts how the cells communicate to keep the heart working.
The research is part of the Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the human body. The new molecular and cellular knowledge of the heart promises to enable a better understanding of heart disease and guide the development of highly individualized treatments.
The work also sets the stage for therapies based on regenerative medicine in the future, the researchers said. Over a lifetime, the average human heart delivers more than 2 billion life-sustaining beats to the body. In doing so, it helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to cells, tissues and organs and enables the removal of carbon dioxide and waste products.
Each day, the heart beats around 100,000 times with a one-way flow through four different chambers, varying speed with rest, exercise, and stress. Every beat requires an exquisitely complex but perfect synchronization across various cells in different parts of the heart.
When this complex coordination goes bad, it can result in cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, killing an estimated 17.9 million people each year.Detailing the molecular processes inside the cells of a healthy heart is critical to understanding how things go awry in heart disease. Such knowledge can lead to more precise, better treatment strategies for various forms of cardiovascular illness.
"Millions of people are undergoing treatments for cardiovascular diseases. 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," said study co-senior author Christine Seidman, professor of medicine in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School and a cardiovascular geneticist at Brigham and Women's.
"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," Seidman said.
The team studied nearly 500,000 individual cells and cell nuclei from six different regions of the heart obtained from 14 organ donors whose hearts were healthy but unsuitable for transplantation.
Using a combination of single-cell analysis, machine learning and imaging techniques, the team could see exactly which genes were switched on and off in each cell.