Heart muscle can undergo Dr Who-style regeneration thanks to shockwave therapy, study finds blood pumped by heart increased by 11 per cent after treatment

Applying gentle shockwaves could get heart muscle working again following bypass operations, new studies suggest.

Doctors in Austria have successfully regenerated cardiac tissue using a device to send mild stimulation shortly after patients had undergone surgery.

Tests showed that the treatment helped the heart pump more oxygen around the body. Meanwhile, patients reported being able to walk further without resting and also said they had a better general quality of life.

Heart bypass surgery is a procedure that can help patients whose supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked.

It creates a new path for blood to flow around narrowed or clogged parts of the major arteries to improve blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart.

Doctors in Austria have successfully regenerated cardiac tissue using a device to send mild stimulation shortly after patients had undergone surgery (stock image)

But this can only preserve heart function, and not improve it.

So researchers wanted to assess whether they could help regenerate the damaged heart muscle after bypass surgery.

In a trial involving 63 patients, researchers used a machine – dubbed a ‘space hairdryer’ – to apply mild soundwaves shortly after bypass surgery.

It was theorised that the ten-minute procedure would stimulate the growth of new vessels around the area damaged or scarred after a heart attack.

A year after surgery, the amount of oxygenated blood pumped by the heart had increased by 11.3 per cent in the shockwave group and 6.3 per cent in the control group who did not get the treatment.

The authors of the paper also reported that the shockwave patients could also walk further without resting in a six-minute test, according to the findings published in the European Heart Journal.

Professor Johannes Holfeld, from Innsbruck Medical University in Austria, told the BBC that the treatment could help ‘millions of people’.

He said: ‘It means they are able to go out for a walk with their dog again or go to the supermarket in their everyday life.

‘We also anticipate they will have a longer life expectancy and fewer re-hospitalisations.’

Experts say a larger trial is needed but that it could one day help patients with as yet incurable heart failure.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation and consultant cardiologist, said: ‘Heart failure can be an extremely debilitating condition, estimated to affect over one million people in the UK.

‘Ischaemic heart disease, or a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle, is known to be the biggest single contributor to the number of heart failure patients.

‘Heart surgery that bypasses blocked coronary arteries undoubtedly helps alleviate symptoms for ischaemic heart disease patients and may prevent heart failure. But this is not always the case, and there is still much room for improvement.

‘What’s exciting about this trial is that a year later, people who had shockwave therapy to the heart during their operation had better heart function and fewer symptoms than those who didn’t. Bigger and longer trials are now needed to research the long-term effects.’

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