Stem cell patches could heal damaged hearts

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The researchers at the Imperial College in London have come up with a breakthrough technology in the form of a stem-cell patch that can be stitched or glued over the damaged area of the heart that can help repair damage caused to the heart after an attack.

While medications can help restrict damage to the heart muscle, there is currently no treatment available to actually restore functionality to the damaged area, except the potential that stem cells present. Several international groups are presently working on parallel pathways to use stem cells in heart repair.

The main challenge facing all of them is to get these cells to function properly.

The new development achieved by Sian Harding, PhD, professor of cardiac pharmacology and colleagues at Imperial College, said they took beating heart cells derived from stem cells and successfully matured them in a laboratory dish for up to seven months. The researchers said this gave them a biocompatible scaffold for developing the basis of a patch.

The scientists believe that if it is possible to stitch or glue the patch of new tissues derived from embryonic stem cells over the damaged area of the heart, that area might become fully functional again.

“We really would like to cover the area of the infarct scar as much as possible, so it might be quite a large patch,” Harding said. “We think the patch itself will stop the scar expanding, which is one of the big problems when you have a myocardial infarction because the scar becomes weak and can bulge out.”

The scientists said they have designed the biomaterial for the patch to have the same elasticity as heart muscle so that it fits. It can also be programmed to degrade safely after staying in place for at least two weeks.

Harding said if safety studies on animals and tests confirm that the new cells are not rejected, they should be able to start initial human trials of the patch within five years. She will be presenting her team’s findings at the U.K. Stem Cell Initiative conference.