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Nanotech Patch Repairs Damaged Heart Tissue in Lab Tests

Heart tissue patch (Frank Mullin/Brown University)

Heart tissue patch (Frank Mullin/Brown University)

Engineers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and India Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur created a patch made from carbon nanofibers and a polymer material that restores damaged cardiac tissue similar to the damage resulting from a heart attack.  The team reported their results online earlier this month in the journal Acta Biomaterialia (paid subscription required).

Among the damage resulting from a heart attack, are losses of damaged nerve cells in the heart’s wall and the cells that spontaneously expand and contract to keep the heart beating in rhythm. These damaged tissues cannot be repaired, thus any treatment or recovery from a heart attack requires a workaround of alternative treatments and therapies. The Brown/IIT research addresses a more direct approach, namely fixing the damage and restoring the functions previously lost.

The engineering team built a patch in the form of a scaffold-like structure made from carbon nanofibers and a biodegradable polymer of lactic and glycolic acid (PLGA). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of PLGA in nanotech-based treatments. Tests showed the patch regenerated natural heart tissue cells, called cardiomyocytes, as well as neurons.

The patch uses nanofibers, helical-shaped tubes with diameters between 60 and 200 nanometers; 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter. Carbon nanofibers are conductors of electrons, providing electrical connections needed by the heart for keeping a steady beat. The researchers stitched the nanofibers together with a PLGA to form a mesh about 22 millimeters long and 15 microns thick; 1 micron equals 1 millionth of a meter.

In tests with the carbon nanofibers seeded with cardiomyocytes, five times as many heart-tissue cells colonized the surface after four hours than the mesh with a control sample made of the polymer only. After five days, the researchers found that heart-tissue cell density on the surface was six times greater than that of the control sample. Neuron density on the test surface had also doubled after four days.

Further development of the patch is needed to better mimic the heart’s electrical current, as well as a lab device to test how the material reacts to the heart’s voltage and beat regime. The researchers also need assurance that the cardiomyocytes that grow on the scaffolds have the same abilities as other heart-tissue cells.

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