New hope for damaged hearts

A heart transplant is the only solution for advanced heart failure. Dr. Paul Fedak is working to change that.
small red heart broken with threaded stitches

Scott Ouellette had a massive heart attack at age 28.

It left him with a heart so damaged that he needed a battery-powered device surgically implanted in his chest, to keep his blood circulating while he waited for a heart transplant.

Dr. Paul Fedak is the surgeon who implanted that device in Scott’s chest. But one day, if his research is successful, Dr. Fedak hopes patients with advanced heart failure like Scott won’t have to resort to transplants as the last hope to replace their damaged hearts.

He wants to use the body’s own cells to help a damaged heart heal itself.

“There are not – and there will never be – enough donor hearts to treat all the people with advanced heart failure,” says Dr. Fedak, a cardiac surgeon and Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher specializing in heart failure. Less than 200 heart transplants are performed each year in Canada.

That’s why he’s passionate about finding another solution. Dr. Fedak believes that regenerative medicine holds the greatest potential to help patients like Scott.

When heart failure strikes

Heart failure occurs when the heart is damaged from a heart attack or other cause, leaving it unable to pump blood through the body as well as it should. While there are treatments to manage the symptoms, there is no cure. It is a long-term chronic condition that gets worse over time. Today, 600,000 Canadians are living with heart failure, and 50,000 more are diagnosed every year.

“Heart failure is reaching epidemic proportions in North America,” says Dr. Fedak.

So the impact of regenerative medicine could be enormous. “It’s about taking cells in your body that could turn into new heart muscle or help repair your damaged heart,” he says. “Your body has a capacity to heal the heart. We used to think that it didn’t, but we now know that your heart can heal itself.”

Repairing a damaged heart

Dr. Fedak’s research, with funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation, is looking at repairing damaged tissues in the heart muscle after a heart attack. “My research involves a biologic material – an organic patch – that we can sew on the surface of the heart, at the place where the heart muscle is damaged.” This patch sends signals down into the muscle after a heart attack to stimulate the development of new blood vessels. 

“As a surgeon, I can do coronary bypass and create a big blood vessel, but I can’t create those little tiny blood vessels that need to get into the deep areas of the muscle to help repair it. We’ve got some really exciting data, it’s all fitting together and it’s got a lot of potential,” he explains.

Dr. Fedak’s research could be a game changer for patients with heart failure. He and his team have been working for about 10 years to better understand how this organic patch can function best, and now they are close to translating this therapy into patients.

As for Scott Ouellette, he waited 113 days with that device in his chest, until finally the call came that a donor heart was waiting for him. Today he and his family are enjoying life to the fullest, and are grateful every day for the research and medical expertise that saved his life.

This research is made possible by our donors. When you fund critical heart disease research, you help create more survivors. Donate now