By Marsha Lewis, Inside Science  – The statistics are shocking. Almost half of all Americans live with one or more risk factors for a heart attack.

Now, bioengineers at the Christman Lab at the University of California, San Diego have created a material that could repair and even reverse the damage done by a heart attack.

"A heart attack is a single event where the blood supply is blocked to that downstream tissue," said Karen Christman, a bioengineer at UCSD. When the tissue is deprived of the blood it needs, it becomes damaged.

"So we're looking at coming in a month after that process has happened to try and reverse it and prevent further damage," said Christman.

They're hoping a new gel will be able to do just that. It begins with the heart tissue from a pig.

Todd Johnson, a bioengineering graduate student at UCSD, explained that they spin the pig heart tissue through detergent, which removes the cellular content of the tissue.

The proteins that are left behind are then freeze dried and pulverized into a fine powder which is digested with enzymes, explained Johnson.

This process creates a liquid that's injected directly into damaged heart tissue through a catheter. The idea is that new scaffolding creates a new home for cells to come in and repair the heart, explained Christman.

"Once it goes into the tissue, it actually self-assembles into a hydrogel. You can think of hydrogel as something similar to Jell-O," said Johnson.

New cells attach themselves to the hydrogel scaffold. Within three weeks the gel disappears, leaving behind the new heart cells and less scar tissue from the heart attack. The creation of more cardiac muscle that could give heart failure patients a new lease on life.

"End-stage heart failure can be really bad … this could be something where they would have normal quality of life," said Christman.

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news. Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.