Engineers Learn How To Mend Damaged Heart Tissue


How do you mend a damaged heart? Engineers at Columbia University have an answer: they have have developed a cell therapy that combines human cells with a biological structure that allows the heart tissue to repair itself.

Stem cells can help mend a “broken” heart

A research team, led by Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been the first to take human repair cells conditioned during in vitro culture and combine them with an intact protein scaffold that delivers the cells to damaged heart tissue.

According to Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic, this technique “is very adaptable and we believe it could be readily extended to the delivery of other types of human stem cells we are interested in to rebuild the heart muscle and further our research of the mechanisms underlying heart repair.”


The state-of-the-art heart repair technique is a promising advancement in the fight against cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer in the United States. According to the American Heart Association’s “Executive Summary: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2011 Update,” cardiovascular disease is responsible for 1 of every 2.9 deaths in the United States, or one death every 39 seconds. Every 25 seconds, an American has a coronary event.

Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic and her team removed cells from the myocardium (heart muscle), which left behind an intact protein scaffold that they filled with human stem cells that can form new tissue. The tissue patches were applied to damaged heart tissue, where they prompted the growth of new blood vessels and stimulated the existing heart tissue to fix itself.

According to Dr. Vunjak-Novakovic, the stem cells “are the real ‘tissue engineers’—we only design the environments so they can do their work.” Eventually the scientists hope this technique will involve “components actually produced and assembled in the operating room to most effectively target-signaling mechanisms involved in the repair process of someone’s damaged heart.”

American Heart Association, Executive Summary: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2011 Update
Godier-Furnemont AFG et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1104619108


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