A new gold patch could replace heart transplants

Scientists have developed a new patch that could remove the need for heart transplants.

Because heart muscles contain few stem cells and heart cells are unable to reproduce, there’s no way for the heart to repair itself, for example after a heart attack. But Dr Tal Dvir and his graduate student Michal Shevach from Tel Aviv University have been conducting research into new ways to help restore damaged heart tissue. Now they think they might have an answer, and it’s golden. Literally: they found that gold nanoparticles added to lab-grown heart cells can form a patch that improves heart function.

The scientists grow heart cells by taking cells from elsewhere in the body and growing them on a small 3D scaffold. The cells grow into one tissue that can generate electricity and expand and contract, just like a heart. The Tel Aviv team discovered that sprinkling in a little gold improves conductivity, which makes it even more effective once it’s surgically implanted.

Until now, research has focused on using cells from pig hearts, but the human immune system is more likely to try to destroy them. So Dr Dvir and his colleagues came up with the idea of using fatty tissue taken from patients’ own stomachs. Dr Dvir said, ‘Our goal was twofold. To engineer tissue that would not trigger an immune response in the patient, and to fabricate a functional patch not beset by signalling or conductivity problems.’

Early trials in small animals have been successful, but more testing is needed before the technique is trialled in humans. The scientists are hopeful however that this less invasive way of improving heart health will eventually become commonplace. <3

Image via Jeremy Schultz’s Flickr.

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Diane Shipley