A sticking plaster to heal damaged hearts has been created by scientists. Packed full of healthy heart cells, it could be used to shore up areas damaged by heart attacks, cutting the odds of further ill health.
To create the inch-long patch – which is as thin as a human hair and resembles a black sticking plaster – the U.S. researchers first built a scaffold of extra-thin carbon fibres.
In experiments in a dish, healthy heart muscle, nerve and other cells ‘crawled’ on to the framework, repairing damage to the heart. In other words, it was able to bring regions of the heart left ‘dead’ by heart attack back to life, the journal Acta Biomaterialia reports.
David Stout, the study’s lead author, said: ‘This whole idea is to put something where dead tissue is to help regenerate it, so that eventually you have a healthy heart.’
Other materials were not as successful. The researchers believe the carbon fibres worked because they conduct electricity well. The first animal tests will take place this year but it is likely to be ten to 15 years before the plasters are routinely used to patch human hearts. Researcher Thomas Webster of Brown University, Rhode Islamd said ‘When someone has a heart attack, part of the heart dies. The heart compensates for that, placing it under more strain. ‘What we wanted to do was develop a material that could be inserted wherever the damage is, maybe through a catheter or small tube, so that new, healthy tissue can grow on top of it.’
While it would be best to insert the device soon after a heart attack, it may still help if it is put in up to several years later, Dr Webster added.
The approach is one of several being explored around the world.
The charity is pursuing the idea of heart patches as well as pills to trick the organ into healing itself, and injections of stem cells. Launching the appeal earlier this year, Professor Peter Weissberg, the BHF’s medical director, said: ‘The biggest issue that still eludes us is how to help people once their heart has been damaged by a heart attack.
‘Scientifically, mending human hearts is an achievable goal and we really could make recovering from a heart attack as simple as getting over a broken leg.’