These days people usually don't die from a heart attack. But the damage to heart muscle is irreversible, and most patients eventually succumb to congestive heart failure, the most common cause of death in developed countries.
Stem cells now offer hope for achieving what the body can't do: mending broken hearts. Engineers and physicians at the University of Washington have built a scaffold that supports the growth and integration of stem cell-derived cardiac muscle cells. A description of the scaffold, which supports the growth of cardiac cells in the lab and encourages blood vessel growth in living animals, is published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Today, if you have a heart attack there's nothing that doctors can do to repair the damage," said lead author Buddy Ratner, a UW professor of bioengineering. "You are, in essence, sentenced to a downhill slide, developing congestive heart failure that greatly shortens your lifespan.
"Your body can't make new heart cells, but what if we can deliver vital new cells in that damaged portion of the heart?"
Ratner and his colleagues built a tiny tubular porous scaffold that supports and stabilizes the fragile cardiac cells and can be injected into a damaged heart, where it will foster cell growth and eventually dissolve away. The new scaffold not only supports cardiac muscle growth, but potentially accelerates the body's ability to supply oxygen and nutrients to the transplanted tissue. Eventually, the idea is that doctors would seed the scaffold with stem cells from either the patient or a donor, then implant it when the patient is treated for a heart attack, before scar tissue has formed.
Other heart scaffolds or tissue patches currently being developed combine cardiac muscle cells and two other types of cells needed to kick-start the growth of blood vessels and connective tissue. Preparing each type of cells is an enormous amount
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington