New information about how the hearts of tiny zebrafish regenerate could help in developing new ways to treat heart damage in humans, say Duke University Medical Center scientists.

It’s believed that the ability to regenerate damaged heart tissue is present in all vertebrate species but, for unknown reasons, humans and other mammals have “turned off” this regeneration function, according to background information in the article.

Discovering the key to this dormant ability could lead to new ways to treat human hearts damaged by disease, the Duke scientists said.

Scientists found that when a portion of a zebrafish’s heart is removed, stem cells that form in the wound work with a protective cell layer that covers the wound to re-grow functional heart tissue. The Duke team also discovered that certain growth factors facilitate interactions between the stem cells and the protective cell layer. The findings are published in the Nov. 3 issue of the journal Cell.

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