Monday, 6 May 2013

Researchers create patch for damaged hearts

Researchers at the Duke University, Durham announced today that they have used human embryonic stem cells to create a "patch" for damaged hearts. The patch may one day be used to treat patients with cardiac damage after a heart attack or as a model for testing new experimental drugs.

This is not the first time researchers grow a heart patch, say the Duke researchers. However, they claim that this is the first patch ever created to overcome the following two major problems:
  • Conducting electricity at the same speed as natural heart cells (myocardiocytes) do 
  • To "squeeze" (contract) appropriately.

“The structural and functional properties of these 3-D tissue patches surpass all previous reports for engineered human heart muscle. This is the closest man-made approximation of native human heart tissue to date.” said Nenad Bursac, associate professor at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and one of the study's authors, adding that "the patch uses no genetically modified cells".

The published literature contains many studies in which researchers used human myocardiocytes derived from stem cells. However, none of these were able to both conduct electrical activity and contract as natural myocardiocytes do, said Bursac. To solve this problem, he and his team used a three-dimensional environment optimised for cell growth. At present, it takes about 5-6 weeks for the researchers to grow a new patch, but this interval is expected to shorten as tissue engineering technology advances.

"We were able to ‘push’ myocardiocytes to reach unprecedented levels of electrical and mechanical maturation.” he said.

A beating myocardiocyte

Potential Applications
Bursac explained that the patch has two possible applications.

First, in the treatment of cardiac damage after a heart attack.

"Our goal would be to implant a patch of new and functional heart tissue at the site of the injury as rapidly after heart attack as possible. Using a patient’s own cells to generate pluripotent stem cells would add further advantage in that there would likely be no immune system reaction, since the cells in the patch would be recognised by the body as self.” he said.

Second, as a model to test new drugs or therapies for heart-related diseases.

“Tests or trials of new drugs can be expensive and time-consuming. instead of, or along with testing drugs on animals, the ability to test on actual, functioning human tissue may be more predictive of the drugs’ effects and help determine which drugs should go on to further studies.” said Bursac.
Zhang, D., Shadrin, I., Lam, J., Xian, H., Snodgrass, H., & Bursac, N. (2013). Tissue-engineered cardiac patch for advanced functional maturation of human ESC-derived cardiomyocytes Biomaterials DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2013.04.026

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