Patients in the UK are to start a trial to see if an engineered virus can be used to heal their damaged and struggling hearts. This is the first ever gene therapy trial for heart failure and will use a virus to introduce genetic material into heart muscle to reverse the organ's decline.

There have been huge medical advances in keeping patients alive after a heart attack in recent years, and the consequence is a rapidly growing number of people living with heart failure. Heart failure affects more than 750,000 people in the UK and can leave some people too weak to climb the stairs.

Researchers at Imperial College London found levels of a particular protein were lower in heart-failure patients. So a genetically modified virus was devised, which should produce more of that protein. The virus will be released into the damaged heart muscle of the 200 patients involved in the trial via a tube inserted into the leg and pushed up through the blood vessels.

Sophie Bales, a medical injury solicitor at Ashton KCJ, comments: “This idea has great potential for providing better quality of life for those with heart failure, which has a devastating and debilitating effect on many people’s lives. However, it is early days and there will need to be numerous clinical trials before the real potential of this heart healing therapy can be known. As with all gene therapies, safety is a big issue and therefore it is important that careful and comprehensive trials and tests are performed to ensure patients’ safety”.