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Gold Nanowires Add Conductivity to Heart Tissue Patches

Gold Bars (Brian Giesen/Flickr)Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to improve the performance of engineered heart tissue patches with gold nanowires. The findings from the team of physicians, engineers, and materials scientists appear online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology (paid subscription required).

Patches of engineered heart tissue, made with biological or synthetic polymers in matrices or on scaffolds like those now in clinical trials, can be stimulated with an electrical current, but the area of stimulation remains localized to the immediate point on the patch. The research tested the extent to which these patches could be made to contract as a unit, when a current is applied.

In lab tests, the researchers added gold nanowires to the patches. The wires were 30 nanometers thick and 2-3 microns long on average, barely visible to the naked eye. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a micron is one millionth of a meter.) The team chose gold for the wires, because it is a conductive material, easy to fabricate, scientists have a lot of experience with it, and is tolerated by the body.

When stimulated with an electrical current, the cells outfitted with gold nanowires produced a measurable spike in voltage, and the researchers found improved electrical communication between adjacent bundles of cardiac cells. “With the nanowires, you see a lot of cells contracting together, even when the stimulation is far away,” says senior investigator Daniel Kohane of Children’s Hospital Boston. “That shows the tissue is conducting.”

The researchers also detected higher levels of the proteins involved in muscle contraction and electrical coupling in the patch  matrices. In tissue patches without the nanowires, only a negligible current passed through patches, and cells beat only in isolated clusters.

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Photo: Brian Giesen/Flickr

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