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Mending broken hearts with an injectable patch

Published on 16/08/17 at 08:38am
IMAGE: Miles Montgomery and Rick Lu

A team of researchers from the University of Toronto have confronted a problem that had previously had no solution – how to repair heart tissue without open-heart surgery.

The reason it is necessary to avoid open-heart surgery is because of the stress it places on the body and, in particular, the heart. The latest innovation could see an injectable patch inserted into the heart without the need for invasive surgery.

The patch is able to squeeze into a small needle through its flexible, physical shape meaning that it can ‘spring’ back into an unfolded position once it interacts with an environment at a specific temperature.

It has so far been tested in rats and pigs in which it was found to successfully fulfil its function of repairing damaged areas. It was found that cardiac function was improved after a heart attack, as the ventricles were able to pump more blood as a result of the repair.

The patch, itself, is the size of a postage stamp and only marginally smaller than one inserted by surgery. It is made up of healthy, heart cells and the structure of the patch is designed to dissolve in time –leaving functioning tissue in its place.

"When we saw that the lab-grown cardiac tissue was functional and not affected by the injection process, that was very exciting," says Miles Montgomery, a PhD candidate that contributed to the research. "Heart cells are extremely sensitive, so if we can do it with them, we can likely do it with other tissues as well."

This last point is one of the most exciting aspects of the research –it could potentially be used across a range of organs that were in need of a less invasive means of repair.

So far, the device has only been tested in animals and it is still some way from being able to be used in human trials but the early signs are promising. The team behind the patch have already applied for a number of patents on the design.

Ben Hargreaves

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