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Heart attacks often leave scarred muscle tissue in their wake, getting in the way of the electrical activity that is needed for a healthy heart to function properly.
While drug treatments can prevent any more damage they can't help the tissue regenerate. Researches at Trinity College Dublin are developing electrically conductive materials to repair scarred heart tissue by using artificial materials.
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Published in journal APL Bioengineering, the researchers looked at using electrically conductive biomaterials for heart repair, focusing in on three methods. Those included creating scaffolds that heart cells can regenerate in, developing electrically conductive patches to repair the damaged tissue and producing injectable hydrogels to carry drugs to the specific areas where the damage is.
Researchers look at ways to prevent scars from blocking signals to the heart
To overcome the issue of a scar acting as an electrical insulator that could stop the heart from receiving the electrical signal that enables the heart to contract, researchers are developing electrical conductive materials that match the electrical properties of the cells in the myocardium that enable the heart to beat. In a healthy heart, the beats occur when cells in the myocardium contract, which happens in a twisting fashion. The contractions are caused by an electrical signal from cells called the sinoatrial node. If there is scar tissue, the signal isn't received by the myocardium.
The researchers used small tubes and/or sheets or carbon, metallic nanoparticles, metal carbides, and plastics covered in a special substant to enable them to conduct electricity.
The long-term impact still needs to be studied
While more work has to be done, particularly looking at the long-term impact of having these materials in the heart, some of the substances proved to have benefits. Certain metal carbides could be anti-inflammatory, the researchers found.
Michael Monaghan, Ussher Assistant Professor in the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering department at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of the story said in a press release PEDOT, a polymer, may be the most suitable for electrically conductive grafts and scaffolds largely because it can be made into 3D structures without needing different supporting materials.