Today, more than 121,000 people in the United States are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, and another name is added to the official waiting list every ten minutes. Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed an electronic cardiac patch that could be even better than a real human heart. The device they invented performs as well as real human tissue, but with even more abilities. In other words, it is a bionic heart and patients who use it will technically become cyborgs. “It’s very science fiction, but it’s already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way,” says lead researcher Dr. Tal Dvir, who created the patch, along with PhD student Ron Feiner.
The patch is made of organic materials combined with engineered parts that sense function and provide electrical stimulation that enables it to contract and expand just like human heart tissue, while regulating itself like a machine. It also has sensors so that doctors can remotely monitor the patch and even adjust the pace or apply medicine, because electroactive polymers are integrated with the electronics. Dr. Dvir explains:
Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well. His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient’s file — in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar.
Eventually, the patch could take care of itself without any help from doctors. “The longer-term goal is for the cardiac patch to be able to regulate its own welfare,” says Dvir. “In other words, if it senses inflammation, it will release an anti-inflammatory drug. If it senses a lack of oxygen, it will release molecules that recruit blood-vessel-forming cells to the heart.”