To heal the damage caused by heart attack, a groundbreaking biodegradable gel has been developed.
The material, which may be injected straight into a beating heart, was developed by scientists at the University of Manchester with the support of the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The biodegradable gel acts as a scaffold, allowing the injected cells to build new tissue.
When it comes to cells, only 1% of cells injected into the heart to minimize the risk of heart failure have remained in place and survived in the past.
Peptides, which are the building blocks of proteins, are used to make the biodegradable gel.
When stressed, it acts like a liquid as the peptides breakdown – a perfect condition for injection – and then the peptides work to rebuild, converting it to a solid.
This keeps the cells in place while they graft onto the heart.
A robust blood supply is required for the injected cells to grow into new tissue and produce beneficial outcomes.
Researchers demonstrated that the gel could enable the formation of normal cardiac muscle tissue. To illustrate that the method may function, they were able to grow human cells that had been reprogrammed to become heart muscle cells in a dish for three weeks and the cells began to spontaneously beat when they introduced them to the gel.
Healthy mice were also used to test the gel.
They injected a fluorescent tag containing the gel into their hearts, and the gel lingered on the hearts for two weeks, according to the results.
The gel’s safety was validated by echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds) and electrocardiograms (ECGs, which assess the electrical activity of the heart).
Researchers aim to test the gel after mice undergo a heart attack to determine if they produce new muscle tissue, in order to learn more. The study was presented in Manchester at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference.
“We’ve come so far in our ability to treat heart attacks and today more people than ever survive,” said Professor James Leiper, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation.
“However, this also means that more people are surviving with damaged hearts and are at risk of developing heart failure.
“This new injectable technology harnesses the natural properties of peptides to potentially solve one of the problems that has hindered this type of therapy for years.
“If the benefits are replicated in further research and then in patients, these gels could become a significant component of future treatments to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.”
“The heart has a very limited ability to repair any damage it sustains,” said Katharine King of the University of Manchester, who conducted the study.
“Our research has been looking for ways to overcome this so we can keep the heart in a healthier place for longer.
“While it’s still early days, the potential this new technology has in helping to repair failing hearts after a heart attack is huge.
“We’re confident that this gel will be an effective option for future cell-based therapies to help the damaged heart to regenerate.”