After a heart attack, the muscles in a patient’s heart are often weakened, increasing the risk for future heart complications, including a second cardiac arrest. Yet a new development from a team of Israeli scientists could change that in the future. In a study of rats, the researchers were able to grow a “bioengineered cardiac patch” by culturing their heart cells, and then placing them into the animals’ stomachs to ensure that they developed sufficient blood flow. They then transplanted the patches onto rats damaged hearts. After transplant, they found that the patches helped create renewed muscle growth in the heart, and also strengthened scar tissue.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expands on previous research into techniques to mend heart muscle after myocardial infarction. Yet, while previous cardiac patches have been developed in the past, many have been prone to leaks or other complications. By growing this patch within the body, and transplanting it so rapidly—the time between removal from the abdomen and transplantation onto the heart was less than five minutes—scientists found that these patches were far more successful at maintaining the intricate network of blood vessels vital to helping heal the heart.
While the researchers say that this technique shows great promise for humans, they also admit that, unfortunately, since a majority of heart attack patients are older—and as such more susceptible to surgical complications—many wouldn’t likely be good candidates for the multiple procedures required to grow and implant the patch. That said, they remain confident that if scientists can somehow develop patches of similar strength and quality without requiring the initial transplant of cells into the stomach, using these high-tech patches to help mend broken hearts could soon be a reality.