Bioengineers on their way- to mend a broken heart
Studies show that one in six men and one in seven women in the EU will suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives. Worldwide, heart disease kills more women and men – regardless of race, than any other disease. The research to find a cure has been going on through the decades.
Recently, Bioengineers from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, have developed a prototype patch that does the same job as essential features of heart tissue.
Their patch withstands the mechanical demands and mimics the electrical signalling properties that allow our hearts to pump blood rhythmically around our bodies. Their work essentially takes us one step closer to a functional design that could mend a broken heart. Isn’t that great news, on Valentine’s Day?
Cardiac patches lined with heart cells can be applied surgically to restore heart tissue in patients who have had damaged tissue removed after a heart attack and to repair congenital heart defects in infants and children. Ultimately, though, the goal is to create cell-free patches that can restore the synchronous beating of the heart cells, without impairing the heart muscle movement.
The bioengineers report their work, which takes us one step closer to such a reality.
Michael Monaghan, assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Trinity said “Despite some advances in the field, heart disease still places a huge burden on our healthcare systems and the life quality of patients worldwide. It affects all of us either directly or indirectly through family and friends. As a result, researchers are continuously looking to develop new treatments which can include stem cell treatments, biomaterial gel injections and assistive devices.”
Engineering replacement materials for heart tissue is challenging since it is an organ that is constantly moving and contracting. The mechanical demands of the heart muscle (myocardium) cannot be met using polyester-based thermoplastic polymers, which are predominantly the approved options for biomedical applications.
However, the functionality of thermoplastic polymers could be leveraged by its structural geometry. The bioengineers then set about making a patch that could control the expansion of material in multiple directions and tune this using an engineering design approach.
The patches were manufactured via melt electrowriting – a core technology of Spraybase® – which is reproducible, accurate, and scalable. The patches were also coated with the electroconductive polymer polypyrrole to provide electrical conductivity while maintaining cell compatibility.
Professor Monaghan added: “Essentially, our material addresses a lot of requirements. The bulk material is currently approved for medical device use, the design accommodates the movement of the pumping heart, and has been functionalized to accommodate signalling between isolated contractile tissues.”
The patch withstood repeated stretching, which is a dominant concern for cardiac biomaterials, and showed good elasticity, to accurately mimic that key property of heart muscle.
“This study currently reports the development of our method and design, but we are now looking forward to furthering the next generation of designs and materials with the eventual aim of applying this patch as a therapy for a heart attack.”