When Thomas Braun was starting out as a young professor at Germany’s University of Würzburg in 1997, he decided to try his hand at a new field: heart regeneration, a sci-fi-esque premise that could offer a way to treat patients recovering from a heart attack. He thought it would take a few years before they got results.
“We were,” he acknowledges now, “rather naïve.”
But on Thursday, after two and a half decades of fitful starts and abandoned leads, Braun and a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute showed that they could reprogram heart cells in mice and get the animals to regenerate cardiac tissue after a heart attack. The breakthrough, published in Science, adds new evidence that it will eventually be possible to help patients recover muscle lost in heart attacks and gives another boon to anti-aging researchers who want to one day apply these rejuvenation techniques across much of the body.