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Scientists Create a Patch to Bypass Scars caused by a Heart attack

Scientists have successfully created a material designed to bridge the gap in the heart’s electrical signals caused by a heart attack.

The international collaboration involving Imperial College London and the University of New South Wales was co-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

For people who have suffered a heart attack and have heart failure arrhythmias are a common and very serious problem, which this patch has the potential to help with.

Departments of Materials and Bioengineering

A heart attack can leave a person’s heart damaged and unable to pump blood around the body effectively, a condition known as heart failure. Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure.

The new patch, which can be attached to the heart without the need for stitches, has now been shown to improve the movement of the heart’s electrical pulses across scarred heart tissue in rats. The research is published today in the scientific journal Science Advances.

After a heart attack, scars are formed within the heart muscle. These scars are our body’s way of repairing damaged heart tissue after a heart attack. However, they can also block the electrical signals that control the coordination of this same pumping action by the heart.

The electrically-conductive patch is made from three components: a film of chitosan, a chemical found in crab shells that is often used as a food additive; polyaniline, a conductive material; and phytic acid, a substance found in plants, which is added to the polyaniline to switch it to its conducting state.

Professor Molly Stevens, who led the research from Imperial’s Departments of Materials and Bioengineering, said: “For people who have suffered a heart attack and have heart failure arrhythmias are a common and very serious problem, which this patch has the potential to help with.

“No stitches are required to attach it, so it is minimally invasive and potentially less damaging to the heart.”

In addition to helping to prevent arrhythmias in scarred hearts this patch may also advance our ability to use stem cells to regenerate damaged heart tissue.

Professor Sian Harding, Director of the BHF Centre of Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study, said: “When a person has a heart attack, they are not only left with scarring but sections of their heart muscle can also be left damaged, meaning that the heart is less able to pump blood around the body.

“We are working on using stem cells to replace this damaged muscle. However, when stem cells are first introduced into the heart they don’t beat at the same time as the rest of the heart muscle straight away. This heart patch could help us to address this issue and ultimately bring us one step closer to being able to mend broken hearts.”

So far, the patch has been shown to work in rats but is still some way off being used in patients. The next step is to use tissue taken from human failing hearts removed at transplant as well as mathematical modelling to try to predict whether the patch will have the same effects for a much bigger human heart.

The new patch developed in conjunction with Dr Damia Mawad, formerly at Imperial, who is now based at the University of New South Wales.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“Although significantly more work will be need to take place before we see this patch used in people it is a highly novel way to try to enable the heart to function better after a heart attack. It therefore represents real hope for the thousands of people in the UK who have had a heart attack and the risk of developing heart failure.

“Through our Mending Broken Hearts appeal we have already raised £25 million for ground-breaking research which will provide real benefits for people living with heart failure.”

The research was funded by the BHF, Marie Curie, Wellcome and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Convergent Bio-Nano Science and Technology.

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