Researchers from Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Wisconsin have joined forces to create a new form of cardiac technology. Not only could they help restore normal heart function to damaged organs, they would be made from a patient’s own cells — and in the process, revolutionize medical technology.
When the heart is damaged — from surgery, or a heart attack, or some other medical condition — it often results in scar tissue. This tissue makes it significantly harder for the heart to function, and compromises the health of millions of Americans per year. Now researchers believe they have a new technology that could literally save lives.
This technology comes in the shape of tiny patches. The patches are made from beating heart cells, grown in a lab and taken from the patient’s own heart. These patches would be surgically implanted, and then used to cover up any scarred area. Scientists hope that the patches will enable patients to lead a relatively normal life, and not have to undergo the risky option of a heart transplant.
“Heart transplants also require bypass machines which entails some risk and complications. Putting a patch on doesn’t require any form of bypass, because the heart can continue to pump as it is.”
The patches are made when blood cells are reprogrammed using genetic engineering. This transforms them into pluripotent cells, which in turn are used to create the cells that make up a human heart. From there, the cells are grown together over a small scaffold that turns them into a functioning patch. Since all the cells come directly from the patient, there is no risk of rejection from the immune system, allowing for safer and more effective heart treatment.
Currently the patches are in the animal testing stage, with researchers observing how mice and pigs respond to them. Should the tests prove to be successful, human testing could very well begin within the next five years. If things continue on that track, we could see widespread use of these patches within a decade or so.