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Injectable Gel Material Devised to Treat Heart Tissue Damage

Human heart and arteries (Yale School of Medicine/Wikimedia Commons)

(Yale School of Medicine/Wikimedia Commons)

Engineers at University of California at San Diego have developed a gel-type material that in animal models shows promise in treating heart tissue damaged by a heart attack. The work of a team led by UCSD’s Karen Christman appears in the 21 February issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (paid subscription required), and a company has been founded to commercialize the process.

The gel material starts out as cardiac connective tissue, stripped of heart muscle cells through a cleansing process, and freeze-dried and milled into powder form. The powder is then liquefied into a fluid that can be injected into the heart.

Once the injected fluid encounters body temperature, it turns into a porous gel that encourages cells to repopulate in areas of damaged cardiac tissue and thus preserve heart function. The gel acts as a scaffold to repair the tissue, and possibly provide signals that can prevent further deterioration in the surrounding tissue.

Christman’s team tested the process using a catheter to deliver the treatment on two groups of lab rats with induced heart damage, one group that received the cardiac gel and the other receiving a saline solution. The rats’ hearts were imaged using MRIs that showed increased heart muscle cells in the damaged tissue area among those receiving the gel. The test group also showed no sign of irregular heart rhythms, which indicates tolerance of the procedure.

The journal article also indicates that the researchers demonstrated the feasibility of delivering the cardiac gel in a pig using a commercially available catheter. Pigs have hearts similar in size and anatomy to humans. Christman says she has tested the process further on pigs, also suggesting repair of heart damage, but those findings have not yet been published.

Christman has co-founded the company Ventrix Inc. in San Diego that plans to commercialize the process, including plans for clinical trials in the next year.

Read More: Stem Cells Repair Heart Muscle in Clinical Trial

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