Innovative patch may reduce muscle damage after a heart attack

heart illustration with stethoscope

By Chiara Townley     

Fact checked by Jasmin Collier

A recent study in rats shows
that an innovative patch prevented the stretching of the heart muscle common
after a heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when the
blood flow that provides the heart muscle with oxygen is significantly reduced
or blocked.
The heart muscle is injured in
the process, and the amount of damage usually depends on the size of the area
supplied by the blocked artery.
It can take about 8 weeks for
the heart muscle to heal. Despite the damage, the rest of the heart has to keep
on pumping blood.
Scar tissue may form in the
injured area and have an impact on the amount of blood that the heart is able
to pump.
Most people who survive a
heart attack have some degree of coronary artery disease. This occurs when
arteries become hardened and narrowed. Usually, survivors have to make crucial
lifestyle changes and may have to take medication to prevent a future heart attack.
According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 700,000 people in the United
States have a heart attack every year. Of these, more than 500,000 experience
their first heart attack and about 200,000 have already had one.
Signs of a heart attack
include chest pain and shortness of breath. Half of U.S. individuals have at
least one of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
or smoking.
Diabetes, obesity, physical
inactivity, and excessive alcohol use also increase the risk of a heart attack.
Testing a new type of adhesive
heart patch

Scientists at Brown University
in Providence, RI, Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and Soochow University
in Suzhou, China have collaborated to create and test a new type of adhesive
heart patch on rats.
The study was an
interdisciplinary effort among researchers in computer modeling and mechanics,
material scientists, and cardiology. The scientists published their findings in
the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
The scientists created this
adhesive patch using a water-based hydrogel material and developed it using
computer simulations. The patch can sit directly on the heart, and the results
of the study show that it may help limit the muscle damage that often occurs
after a heart attack.
“The idea here,”
explains study co-author Prof. Huajian Gao, from Brown University, “is to
provide mechanical support for damaged tissue, which hopefully gives it a
chance to heal.”
Prof. Gao goes on to say that
past studies had shown that mechanical patches could be effective, but no research
had attempted to identify the “optimum mechanical properties.”
Getting those properties right is crucial to ensuring that the patch can work
“If the material is too
hard or stiff,” he adds, “then you could confine the movement of the
heart so that it can’t expand to the volume it needs to. But, if the material
is too soft, then it won’t provide enough support. So, we needed some
mechanical principles to guide us.”

Creating right mechanical
properties is key

The researchers developed a
computer model focused on two key components, one of which was the expanding
and contracting of the heart and the impact the patch had on these functions.
The other was to model the
injuries that occur after a heart attack. In this way, the team could look at how
much mechanical support would be necessary to limit the damage.
Following the results of the
computer model, the researchers — led by Prof. Lei Yang, of Soochow University
— created a hydrogel material using food-sourced starch. This material is inexpensive,
easy to make, and viscoelastic, which means that “it combines fluid and
solid properties.”
The study in rats showed that
this new type of adhesive patch was effective in reducing muscle damage after a
heart attack.
“[It] maintained a better
cardiac output and thus greatly reduced the overload of those remaining
cardiomyocytes and adverse cardiac remodeling,” says study co-author Ning
Sun, a cardiology researcher at Fudan University.
Their research found that the
patch can reduce cell death, the accumulation of scar tissue, and oxidative
stress. The researchers believe that more testing is required, but the results
are promising.
“It remains to be seen if
it will work in humans, but it’s very promising.”
-Prof. Huajian Gao

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.