Could algae help treat heart attack patients?
Someday, a treatment for cardiac patients could be so outside-the-box that it’s from the swamp—algae.
In the aftermath of a heart attack, your heart needs two things to start repairing damaged tissue—oxygen and sugar. Microscopic plants such as phytoplankton and algae produce those two things when given sunlight. That got Dr. Joseph Woo, a professor and heart surgeon at Stanford University, thinking: What if these tiny plants could be used to help our hearts heal themselves?
In a study published in Science Advances, Woo and his team describe how they successfully injected microscopic cyanobacteria grown in a lab into rats’ damaged heart tissue. Then they turned up the lights to activate photosynthesis in the algae. After 20 minutes, the rats’ metabolism had increased in damaged areas. Overall cardiac performance improved after about 45 minutes.
The team was able to protect the rats from heart failure, and evidence suggests that the oxygen and sugar created through photosynthesis was enhancing tissue repair.
It might seem like an infection risk to inject living bacteria into a bodily organ, but researchers didn’t observe any immune response after a week of monitoring and the bacteria disappeared.
“Maybe that’s the best kind of bacteria,” Woo told Smithsonian.com, the kind that helps control damage and then disappears.
The next step will be trying the technique on larger animals.
Algae injected into a rat’s heart helped improve cardiac performance.