Damaged heart mended with 'engineered tissue'

A team at Columbia University has claimed that the breakthrough, published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ journal, is an important step forward in combating cardiovascular disease. Led by Dr Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, the team developed a novel cell therapy to treat myocardial infarction — heart damage that follows a heart attack.

They were able to combine the use of human repair cells that were conditioned during in-vitro culture to maximise their ability to revascularise and improve blood flow to the infarcted tissue with a fully biological composite scaffold designed to deliver these cells to the damaged heart.

With this platform, the scientists could both keep the cells within the infarct bed (in contrast to the massive cell loss associated with infusion of cells alone) and enhance cell survival and function in infarct bed, where most of the cells would have died due to the obstruction of their blood supply.

“We are very excited about this new technique. This platform is very adaptable and we believe it could be readily extended to the delivery of other types of human stem cells we are interested in to rebuild the heart muscle and further our research of the mechanisms underlying heart repair,” said Vunjak-Novakovic.

In their research, the scientists removed the cells of a human heart muscle — the myocardium — leaving a protein scaffold with intact architecture and mechanical properties. They filled the scaffold with human mesenchymal progenitors (stem cells that can differentiate into many cell types) and applied the patches to damaged heart tissue. The patches promoted the growth of new blood vessels and released proteins that stimulated the native tissue to repair itself.

Moreover, the team also used this controllable platform to identify the signaling mechanisms involved in the repair process, and expand our knowledge about the role of cells and scaffold design on heart repair.

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