Harvard scientists have developed a new “bionic” cardiac patch – nanoscale electronic scaffolds seeded with cardiac cells – that can act like a pacemaker.
Doctors in recent years have made vast leaps in the treatment of cardiac problems – particularly with the development of “cardiac patches,” swaths of engineered heart tissue that can replace heart muscle damaged during a heart attack.
“I think one of the biggest impacts would ultimately be in the area that involves replacement of damaged cardiac tissue with pre-formed tissue patches,” said Charles Lieber, from Harvard University in the US.
“Rather than simply implanting an engineered patch built on a passive scaffold, our work suggests it will be possible to surgically implant an innervated patch that would now be able to monitor and subtly adjust its performance,” Lieber said.
The bionic patch could act like a pacemaker – delivering electrical shocks to correct arrhythmia, but the possibilities do not end there, Lieber said.
“In this study, we’ve shown we can change the frequency and direction of signal propagation,” he said.
“We believe it could be very important for controlling arrhythmia and other cardiac conditions,” he added.
Unlike traditional pacemakers the bionic patch – because its electronic components are integrated throughout the tissue – can detect arrhythmia far sooner, and operate at far lower voltages.
“Even before a person started to go into large-scale arrhythmia that frequently causes irreversible damage or other heart problems, this could detect the early-stage instabilities and intervene sooner,” Lieber said.
“It can also continuously monitor the feedback from the tissue and actively respond,” he said.
The patch might also find use as a tool to monitor the responses under cardiac drugs, or to help pharmaceutical companies to screen the effectiveness of drugs under development, Lieber said.
Likewise, the bionic cardiac patch can also be a unique platform to study the tissue behaviour evolving during some developmental processes, such as ageing, ischemia or differentiation of stem cells into mature cardiac cells, he said.
The research was published in journal Nature Nanotechnology.