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SEATTLE - (Feb. 3, 2009) — Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) received a $2.5 million grant for principal investigator Margaret Allen, MD, for her work exploring innovative methods to repair heart muscle after damage from a heart attack. The grant is from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. An initial pilot program for the grant found promising results. Dr. Allen is working in partnership with Michael Regnier, PhD, from the University of Washington, Department of Bioengineering. 

"Heart muscle cells don't regenerate after being damaged like some other organs of the body," explains Dr. Allen. "Scientists have been working for years to find cells within the patient's own body that could regenerate heart muscle, but nothing to date has reliably been able to grow into new heart muscle."

Drs. Allen and Regnier are using atrial cells from the atrial appendage to study if they could be used for cell transplantation. The benefits of these cells are that they are already heart muscle cells, they are commonly not damaged during a heart attack, and, since they come from the patients themselves, they could be implanted into the damaged area of the heart without a risk of rejection.

"In preliminary experiments we took atrial cells, treated them, and then put them under the stress they would have to undergo if implanted into a heart attack site," says Dr. Allen. "The treatment allowed the cells to recover and after a couple weeks, they began to beat."

The priority goal of the research is to develop a treatment to optimize the survival of cells after implantation.

"Major heart attacks are very devastating and can eventually lead to heart failure," said Dr. Allen. "If we can find ways to help muscle cells survive a heart attack or ways to repair or rebuild the areas of damage, and improve heart function by even 20 to 30 percent, it might make the difference in preventing the development of heart failure. This could improve longevity, decrease the cost of care, and provide patients with a better quality of life."

About Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason
Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), founded in 1956, is an international leader in immune system and autoimmune disease research translating discoveries to real-life applications. Autoimmune disease happens when the immune system, designed to protect the body, attacks it instead. BRI is one of the few research institutes in the world discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and many others. Visit www.benaroyaresearch.org for more information about BRI, clinical studies and the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases.

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