After a myocardial infarction (MI), or heart attack, the heart is never the same again. Dead cardiac tissue from insufficient oxygen perfusion is dissolved by the body and replaced by scar tissue that renders the heart less flexible. Thus, the heart muscles pump blood to the rest of the body less efficiently than its pre-MI state.
Scientists have come up with a number of ways to replace cardiac scar tissue by way of a ‘Band-Aid’ that helps regrow heart tissue. One method is the creation of MeTro, a gel made by tropoelastin, which is a protein that gives tissue its elasticity. The gel was “seeded” with cardiac muscle cells procured from the patient. The hope is that once placed onto the weakened area of the heart, the cells on the MeTro will merge with the patient’s cells via cell-to-cell communication mechanisms until the gel is completely replaced.
Another approach is the use of a carbon nanofiber patch with a 3D scaffold-like structure that can expand and contract like the heart. The fibers are proficient electricity conductors and can transmit electrons, or electrical impulses, that the heart requires to beat steadily. The combined elastic nature of the structure and its ability to conduct electrons make the nanofiber patch a good breeding ground for cardiac muscle cells, and thus excellent fodder for regeneration.
The latest discovery to heal the heart came from the help of lab rats. Scientists noted that the extracellular matrix (ECM) fibers in hearts of rats were spiral-shaped. The scaffold structures serve as the ECM in which to grow heart cells and were usually grown in labs as straight fibers. The fibers were spun using electrospinning techniques so they resembled telephone handset cords, and functioned like natural cardiac tissue compared to the straight fibers.
Once researchers refine the various artificial growing media for cardiac tissue regeneration and find a way to obtain large enough samples to use as seeds of regeneration, the path to mending broken hearts seems to be highly probable.