Repairing the Heart with Hydrogels – Headline Science

Repairing the Heart with Hydrogels – Headline Science


After a heart attack, damage to the body doesn’t
stop after the crushing pain fades. The heart’s walls thin out, scar tissue forms, and patients
can eventually experience heart failure, a condition affecting more than five million
Americans. But scientists now report they have developed gels that, in animal tests,
can be injected into the heart to strengthen weakened areas and prevent heart failure. During a heart attack, clots or narrowed arteries
block blood flow, harming or killing cells within the tissue. Afterwards, those damaged
tissues may weaken and pump less blood. The can lead to heart failure, which can progress
from fatigue to shortness of breath and eventually death. Treatments include lifestyle changes,
medication, implants or heart transplants, but these options often don’t work well
or, in the case of transplants, are hard to come by. Jason Burdick and his team at the University
of Pennsylvania may have found a more effective treatment in the form of hydrogels, injectable
polymers with a consistency similar to Jell-O. They are presenting their findings at the
252nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society Different research teams have experimented
with hydrogels to deliver cells in hopes to repair heart tissue. But scientists noticed
something odd when they ran control experiments in which they injected the hydrogel without
added cells: Some of the animals’ hearts still showed improvement compared with untreated
animals. Burdick’s team, including graduate student
Christopher Rodell, used a minimally invasive injection technique to deliver their specially
designed hydrogels without added cells. They developed a unique material based on hyaluronic
acid, a type of sugar molecule that naturally occurs in the body. After injection, this
acid forms additional links between the polymer chains, resulting in a stiffer and longer-lasting
material compared to other gels. In sheep studies performed in collaboration
with Rob Gorman, the gel limited the formation of scar tissue, thinning of the heart’s
walls and enlargement of the heart. By preserving the organ’s size, the gels also reduce leakage
of blood from one of the heart’s valves. Together, these benefits maintain the heart’s
blood-pumping ability and could stave off heart failure. Burdick and his team hope that these hydrogel
treatments offer patients a better, minimally-invasive option when it comes to treating heart failure. ACS Headline Science is produced by the American
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