London: In a ray of hope for millions of heart patients worldwide, scientists have claimed that a chemical, also found in bear bile, may help the recovery of people who have had a heart attack.

The synthesised compound, Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), is already used to reduce cholesterol production and to dissolve gallstones. Now, a team at Imperial College London has shown it could also treat potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythms.

The study shows that UDCA could prevent abnormal heart rhythm or arrhythmia, both in people who've had a heart attack, and in foetuses. It alters the electrical properties of myofibroblast cells, which are present in the foetal heart and in patients who've suffered heart attack, says the team.

The researchers found myofibroblasts disrupt the transmission of electrical signals that control heart rhythm.

"These findings are exciting. Our results from the lab suggest that UDCA could help the heart muscle conduct electrical signals more normally," said Dr Julia Gorelik, the study's lead author.

It is hoped that a clinical trial will demonstrate whether the results of this new research translate to patients with heart failure, say the scientists.

Commenting on the research, Peter Weisssberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said, "This study provides some insight into how bile acids might cause fatal rhythm disturbances in foetal hearts.If the same mechanism applies to adult hearts after a heart attack, this could prove to be a useful treatment to prevent serious heart rhythm disorders."