The heart muscle relies on a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood to nourish it and to keep it pumping. During a heart attack, that blood flow is interrupted by a blockage in an artery. Without blood, the area of the heart fed by the affected artery begins to die and scar tissue forms in the area. Common concerns such as myocardial infractions and coronary heart disease can permanently injure the heart for the rest of one’s life, at least until recently.
Simple applications, such as biologically engineered skin, are already in use and improving the lives of people around the globe. However, building tissue for an organ as vital and as complicated as the heart requires more research and an even more in-depth look into synthetic materials to mimic cardiac rhythms. Researchers at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, and the University of Sydney in Australia were able to combine a novel elastic hydrogel with microscale technologies to create an artificial cardiac tissue that mimics the mechanical and biological properties of the native heart.
“The reason we like these materials is because in many ways they mimic aspects of our own body’s matrix,” said Ali Khademhosseini, Ph.D. “They’re soft and contain a lot of water, like many human tissues.”
Not only does this newly fabricated synthetic tissue beat in a lab dish, but also when implanted into animals.
“Repairing damaged hearts could help millions of people around the world live longer, healthier lives,” Harvard researcher Nasim Annabi remarked.
It won’t be long until this medical advancement will be able to counter the deficit of organs needed for the thousands of North Americans who are suffering from terminal medical conditions.
(Image Credit Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)