SCIENTISTS are just “a few years” away from a jab that could fix deadly heart defects like the one that nearly killed footballer Fabrice Muamba.
The former Bolton Wanderers midfielder collapsed on the pitch in 2012 after having a cardiac arrest triggered by a genetic condition he did not know about.
British Heart Foundation researchers now say they are within reach of making an injection that can block the genes that trigger illnesses like his.
An estimated 260,000 Brits have genetic heart defects and an average of 12 undiagnosed under-35s die suddenly every week.
Professor Hugh Watkins, from Oxford University, said: “This is our once-in-generation opportunity to relieve families of the constant worry of sudden death and heart failure.
“After 30 years of research, we have discovered many of the genes and specific genetic faults responsible for different cardiomyopathies – and how they work.
“We believe that we will have a gene therapy ready to start testing in clinical trials in the next five years.”
The frontrunner for the breakthrough cure is an injection that edits DNA to cripple the genes behind the silent heart damage.
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These genes prevent the muscle developing properly and people who carry them account for half of all heart transplant patients.
A £30million drive from the BHF will see scientists take futuristic CRISPR gene editing – which chops out unwanted sections of DNA – into the human heart for the first time.
Already proven in animals, if the treatment works it could cure existing patients and prevent health woes in high-risk children.
One in two patients pass the genes onto their kids, meaning entire families can be struck down.
Bolton’s Muamba, 34, revealed this year that all three of his sons have inherited heart issues.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This is a defining moment for cardiovascular medicine.
“Once successful, the same gene editing innovations could be used to treat a whole range of common heart conditions where genetic faults play a major role.”
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