When a heart attack occurs, it can cause irreversible damage to the cardiac muscle. However, scientists have found a potential new treatment that could help repair this muscle after a heart attack has occurred.

Researchers at Cúram, the SFI research centre for medical devices at NUI Galway, and the Bioforge Lab at the University of Valladolid in Spain have developed an injectable hydrogel that, when used shortly after a heart attack, could result in less scarring of the cardiac tissue and an increase in the generation of new blood vessels.

Prof Abhay Pandit, scientific director of Cúram and project lead, said: “This project involved the development and testing of an elastin-based hydrogel derived from a naturally occurring biomaterial in the human body.”

The hydrogel is based on a family of unique biomaterials, called elastin-like recombinamers, that had been developed at Bioforge Lab.

Pandit said the hydrogel was developed to “mimic the environment around the heart” following tissue death and then customised to be able to protect and promote regeneration of the cardiac tissue.

The international team of researchers were also able to observe the rise in the preservation and survival of cardiomyocytes, a type of cell that allows the heart to beat, in the affected area.

“This project demonstrates the efficacy of a unique biomaterial-only system able to induce a positive healing effect on cardiac tissue following a heart attack event,” said Pandit.

“The functional benefits obtained by the timely injection of the hydrogel supports and highlights the potential use of this treatment in the clinic. The next step will be to develop a prototype for a delivery system for the hydrogel.”

Prof Mark Da Costa, senior co-author of the study, added that when scar tissue forms after a heart attack, it often remodels negatively, causing future problems. “The timely injection of this hydrogel appears to change the way the heart muscle heals after a heart attack,” he said.

“Work is progressing now to deliver this to the sites of injury in different clinical settings and will be followed with translation into a clinical trial.”

The results of this research have just been published in Science Translational Medicine.

Jenny Darmody

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