Scientists at Harvard University have constructed nanoscale electronic scaffolds that can be seeded with cardiac cells to produce a “bionic” cardiac patch. Once implanted, the bionic patch could act like a pacemaker, delivering electrical shocks to correct arrhythmia––but the possibilities don’t end there.
“I think one of the biggest impacts would ultimately be in the area that involves replacement of damaged cardiac tissue with preformed tissue patches,” said lead investigator Dr. Charles Lieber. “Rather than simply implanting an engineered patch built on a passive scaffold, our work suggests it will be possible to surgically implant an innervated patch that would be able to monitor and subtly adjust its performance.”
Unlike traditional pacemakers, Lieber said, the bionic patch––because its electronic components are integrated throughout the tissue––can detect arrhythmia sooner and operate at lower voltages than traditional pacemakers.
“Even before a person started to go into large-scale arrhythmia that frequently causes irreversible damage or other heart problems, this could detect the early-stage instabilities and intervene sooner,” Lieber said. “It can also continuously monitor the feedback from the tissue and actively respond.”
“And a normal pacemaker, because it’s on the surface, has to use relatively high voltages,” he added.
The patch might also find use as a tool to monitor the responses under cardiac drugs, or to help pharmaceutical companies to screen the effectiveness of drugs under development, Lieber said. Moreover, the bionic cardiac patch can also be a unique platform to study the tissue behavior evolving during some developmental processes, such as aging, ischemia, or the differentiation of stem cells into mature cardiac cells.
Lieber suggested that similar cardiac patches might one day be delivered by injection.
“It may actually be that, in the future, this won’t be done with a surgical patch,” he said. “We could simply do a co-injection of cells with the mesh, and it assembles itself inside the body, so it’s less invasive.”
The research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.
Source: Harvard University; June 27, 2016.