Bioengineers in Trinity are one step closer to mending “broken hearts”, having developed a prototype patch that can carry out the same functions as crucial aspects of heart tissue.
The patch, which could be used to treat heart disease – the number-one cause of death in women and men worldwide – mimics the electrical signalling properties that allow the heart to pump blood rhythmically around the body.
Developing replacement materials for heart tissue is considered to be challenging, since the heart is an organ that is constantly moving and contracting. The mechanical demands of heart muscle cannot be met using polyester-based thermoplastic polymers, which are the standard materials for biomedical applications.
The research team set about designing a patch that could control the expansion of a material in multiple directions and tune this using an engineering design approach. 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.
One in six men and one in seven women in the EU will suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives.
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. They can also be used to repair congenital heart defects in infants and children.
In a press statement, Michael Monaghan, an Ussher assistant professor in biomedical engineering at Trinity, and a senior author on the paper, 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.”
Monaghan continued: “Ours is one of few studies that looks at a traditional material, and through effective design allows us to mimic the direction-dependent mechanical movement of the heart, which can be sustained repeatably.”
“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 functionalised to accommodate signaling between isolated contractile tissues.”
“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”, he said.
Dr Dinorath Olvera, a researcher in the Trinity Centre for Biomedical Engineering and the first author on the paper, added in a press statement that the results of the study “represent a significant step towards generating a bioengineered patch capable of recapitulating aspects of heart tissue – namely its mechanical movement and electrical signalling”.