Duke researchers have shown that applying a protein secreted by adult stem cells can repair heart function and reduce scarring. The group had previously shown that adult mesenchymal stem cells could reduce heart and restore function in rodent hearts. Their newest study looked at the mechanism behind the success of adult stem cells in treating heart damage.

They found that a natural protein, called "secreted frizzled related protein 2 (sfrp2)", was a key factor in the heart repair seen with adult stem cells. In a rat model, they found that application of the protein after heart attack prevented fibrous scarring within two weeks, and began to restore heart function within four weeks.

Dr. Victor Dzau, senior author of the study, said:

"We found that giving the study rats the protein sfrp2 strongly improved heart function in the critical pumping chamber, the left ventricle, after a myocardial infarction. We observed that sfrp2 at therapeutic doses reduced heart muscle death and also directly prevented deposits of collagen, and thus reduced the scarring that can affect heart function."

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.