Bioengineering team from Trinity College in Dublin develops a prototype patch that does the same job as crucial aspects of heart tissue.
One in six men and one in seven women in the EU will suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives. Worldwide, heart disease kills more women and men than any other disease and bioengineering might deliver a solution.
Longevity.Technology: Cardiac patches lined with heart cells can be applied surgically to restore heart tissue in patients who have had damaged tissue removed after a heart attack. Ultimately, though, the goal is to create cell-free patches that can restore the synchronous beating of the heart cells, without impairing the heart muscle movement.
The Trinity bioengineers reported their work  in the journal Advanced Functional Materials and demonstrate that they have taken on step closer to a deployable solution.
“Despite some advances in the field, heart disease still places a huge burden on our healthcare systems and the life quality of patients worldwide,” said Michael Monaghan, professor in biomedical engineering at Trinity, and senior author on the paper. “As a result, researchers are continuously looking to develop new treatments which can include stem cell treatments, biomaterial gel injections and assistive devices.
“Ours is one of few studies that looks at a traditional material, and through effective design allows us to mimic the direction-dependent mechanical movement of the heart, which can be sustained repeatably. This was achieved through a novel method called ‘melt electrowriting’.”
The project highlights the potential applications of this technology; engineering replacement materials for heart tissue is challenging since it is an organ that is constantly moving and contracting. The functionality of thermoplastic polymers were leveraged through structural geometry; the bioengineers then set about making a patch that could control the expansion of a material in multiple directions and tune this using an engineering design approach.
The patch withstood repeated stretching, which is a dominant concern for cardiac biomaterials, and showed good elasticity, to accurately mimic that key property of heart muscle.
The patches were manufactured via melt electrowriting – a core technology of Spraybase®; they were also coated with the electroconductive polymer polypyrrole to provide electrical conductivity while maintaining cell compatibility. This work was performed in collaboration with Spraybase, a subsidiary of Avectas Ltd. It was funded by Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Partnership Program (IPP).
Dr Dinorath Olvera, Trinity, first author on the paper, added: “Our electroconductive patches support electrical conduction between biological tissue in an ex vivo model. These results therefore represent a significant step towards generating a bioengineered patch capable of recapitulating aspects of heart tissue – namely its mechanical movement and electrical signalling.”