A 10,000 volt 3D electric sprayer, which fires out a stream of heart cells. It can create thin sheets of beating cells that researchers hope they can use to patch-up pieces of damaged heart.As more people survive Heart attacks then it means more are living with a damaged heart. When heart muscle cells dies it is replaced by scarring, just as it does after you cut your leg. But scar tissue does not beat, so it can leave the heart struggling to pump blood. In some cases it can make even the simplest of tasks as exhausting as running a marathon.The British Heart Foundation researchers are trying to develop the patches. The thin sheets of heart cells could be layered onto the heart to help it beat or maybe even sprayed directly onto scar tissue inside the heart.
Dr Suwan Jayasinghe a medical engineer has assembled the pieces of the bio-electric sprayer. First a syringe is filled with heart cells. In the future it is thought these cells could be taken from a patient’s heart and grown or a patient’s stem cells could be converted into heart cells. These are then passed through a needle. However, unlike a graffiti artist’s spray can, this is not enough to get the thin accurate spray of cells needed to build the heart tissue.
Instead 10,000 volts going through the needle create an electric field to control the cells. “You get the formation of a fine jet which then breaks up into a myriad of droplets and those droplets are what form the sheet,” said Dr Jayasinghe. “The beautiful thing is that we can add various other cell types into this cell suspension and create three dimensional cardiac tissues that are fully functional.” Under a microscope it is then possible to see the cells beating in the patch. The next test is to see if the patches can actually help a damaged heart to beat, by testing them in animals”
Researcher Dr Anastasis Stephanou said: “Hopefully we can show that these engineered cardiac sheets improve the function of a damaged heart.”
“A heart is made up of different cell types, so we would be able to design the technology where we would be able to place the right number of cell types to develop the actual cardiac tissue.” “So we feel the technology we have is quite superior in terms of the other cardiac tissue engineering technologies that are available.”
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation which funds the research, said: “Creating heart muscle is a huge challenge and involves a mix of different cells and blood vessels that need to line-up perfectly with one another.
“This groundbreaking research is trying to find a way to build ‘pieces of the heart’ outside the body. We hope that one day these pieces can be grafted onto damaged hearts to help them pump more strongly.”
Mending Broken Hearts
Britain’s leading heart charity the British Heart Foundation(BHF) has launched a £50 million ($80 million) research project on Tuesday into the potential of stem cells to regenerate heart tissue and “mend broken hearts”.
Scientists leading the work for the British Heart Foundation said they hope that within the next decade they may have experimental drugs in development that would give certain kinds of cells in the heart the ability to regenerate tissue, repair damage and therefore combat heart failure.
The ability of heart tissue to regenerate already occurs in some animals, such as zebrafish, which can regrow portions of their own hearts if they are damaged.
At a briefing in London to launch a “mending broken hearts” fundraising campaign, scientists said research into stem cells and developmental biology may in future make this possible in people too.
“Scientifically, mending human hearts is an achievable goal and we really could make recovering from a heart attack as simple as getting over a broken leg,” said Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF. Scientists in the United States reported last year that they had been able to turn structural heart cells into beating cells by identifying genes that, in a developing embryo, turn an immature cell into a beating heart cell or cardiomyocyte. One of the British teams, led by Professor Paul Riley of the Institute of Child Health at University College London (UCL) has already found a natural protein, called thymosin beta 4, that plays a role in developing heart tissue.
He said his researchers had already had some success in using this protein to “wake up” cells known as epicardial cells in mice with damaged hearts.
“We hope to find similar molecules or drug-like compounds that might be able to stimulate these cells further,” he told reporters at the briefing.
Another team of researchers at Imperial College London will be looking at a group of rare latent stem cells that can be harvested and then grown in the laboratory.
These cells are highly active in developing hearts and can grow into new functioning tissue, but something in them gets switched off soon after humans are born, meaning that the heart is no longer able to repair any damage, said Professor Michael Schneider, who leads this team.
His researchers will be trying to find ways of re-activating the cells in a controlled and safe way, so that they are able to repair damaged heart tissue but will not grow out of control.
“One strategy would be to give a drug that would activate this kind of process,” he said, adding that this “requires more knowledge about what signals trigger these cells”.
Weissberg said if the research was as successful as they hoped, it could one day reduce or even eliminate the need for heart transplants for patients whose hearts are damaged.
Heart failure research at Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust gets £100,000 grant The lives of people recovering from heart failure could be transformed after a team of researchers at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust were awarded £100,000 to study different types of rehabilitation. Dr Hasnain Dalal and researcher Jenny Wingham are leading the ground-breaking study, which will look at whether home or medical centre-based rehabilitation offers the best recovery chances for cardiac patients.The grant was awarded by the National Institute of Health Research and Dr Dalal, who also works as a GP at the Three Spires Practice in Truro and is a lecturer at the Peninsula Medical School, said it would be put to good use. “We feel very proud that we have been able to get this funding,” he said. “It is a very competitive grant to apply for and there were no guarantees we would get it.” Although Dr Dalal is leading the study, the team is working with several other centres all over the UK and RCHT consultant cardiologist Robin Van Lingen. Dr Dalal has been working in the field of cardiac rehabilitation research for more than ten years and with Mrs Wingham has previously completed a study on home versus hospital-based rehabilitation for patients who have suffered heart attacks. According to the latest figures, around 900,000 people are affected by heart failure in the UK, but only a small percentage receive cardiac rehabilitation. The grant, which funds research for a year, is the first one to be awarded in Cornwall.