Duke researchers develop heart patch
Duke researchers have found a way to potentially mend diseased hearts, using a patch developed from embryonic stem cells. The discovery of the “heart patch” is a first step toward repairing heart damage from diseased tissue.
Duke scientists used embryonic stem cells from mice, made up of heart muscle cells, known as cardiomyocytes. The “patch” is a three dimensional structure encased in fibrin that helps blood clot and provides support to the cells that could mend diseased hearts. The researchers added cells called cardiac fibroblasts to help the heart patch stay organized.
According to Brian Liau, "We found that adding cardiac fibroblasts to the growing cardiomyocytes created a nourishing environment that stimulated the cells to grow as if they were in a developing heart. When we tested the patch, we found that because the cells aligned themselves in the same direction, they were able to contract like native cells. They were also able to carry the electrical signals that make cardiomyocytes function in a coordinated fashion."
Brian Liau is a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, working with assistant professor Nenad Bursac. Together, the scientists presented their findings that diseased hearts might be mended using a “heart patch” at the annual scientific sessions of the Biomedical Engineering Society in Pittsburgh.
The researchers say there are still some obstacles to overcome before the heart patch can be used in humans however.
"While we were able to grow heart muscle cells that were able to contract with strength and carry electric impulses quickly, there are many other factors that need to be considered," Bursac said. "The use of fibrin as a structural material allowed us to grow thicker, three-dimensional patches, which would be essential for the delivery of therapeutic doses of cells. One of the major challenges then would be establishing a blood vessel supply to sustain the patch."
The scientists are planning on testing the heart patch using non-embryonic stem cells. Using a patient’s own stem cells to mend diseased hearts would be ethical, and bypass any problems with rejection.
Reference: Duke University