This new development may be a game-changer for heart attack victims

This new development may be a game-changer for heart attack victims

A new biomedical development could allow doctors to replace irreparably damaged cardiac tissue one day, giving hope to patients recovering from a heart attack.

Engineers at Duke University have created a fully functioning artificial human heart muscle large enough to serve as a patch over the damaged tissue.

Unlike some organs, the human heart cannot regenerate, such as from damage sustained during a heart attack. Instead, dead muscle is often replaced by scar tissue that can no longer transmit electrical signals or contract. Eventually, the damage leads to heart failure.

Sometimes, the heart muscle is just stunned and can regain its strength after a heart attack, says Dr. Gaile Sabaliauskas, a cardiologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

But when the damage is permanent, the heart muscle becomes weaker and at risk for potential arrhythmias.

Currently, the usual course of action for heart attack survivors is simply rehabbing their heart to make up for the damage sustained.

A heart patch made from stem cells could be implanted over that dead muscle and remain active for long stretches of time. The Duke project’s patch is the first human heart patch to both be large enough to cover the affected tissue and just as strong and electrically active as the native tissue.

Duke researchers admit the current study’s patch is not yet thick enough to be a viable solution, and that they’ve yet to figure out how best to fully integrate the heart patch within the existing muscle.

Still, Dr. Sabaliauskas says the prospect of such a patch is exciting, especially for patients who are not candidates for heart transplant or heart devices.

“For heart failure patients, we have total artificial hearts, heart assist devices and defibrillators/pacemakers, but the concept of using stem cells to grow various types of heart cells is intriguing,” she says. “It would change the face of heart failure, especially if the patches can be grown large enough to cover all of the dead heart tissue. It could change the landscape of heart failure treatment.”

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About the Author

Nathan Lurz
Nathan Lurz

Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.