Shining a new ray of hope for patients in need of heart transplants, researchers have developed a self-regulating cardiac patch that not only replaces diseased organic tissue but also ensures its sound functioning through remote monitoring.
Combining organic and engineered parts, the "cyborg heart patch" contracts and expands like human heart tissue but regulates itself like a machine.
"With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue," said Tal Dvir from Tel Aviv University in Israel.
"It is very science fiction, but it's already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way,” Dvir said.
"Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results. Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly," Dvir noted, reports Down to Earth.
Their study was published in the journal Nature Materials.
For the new bionic patch, Dvir and his team engineered thick bionic tissue suitable for transplantation.
The engineered tissue features electronics that sense tissue function and accordingly provide electrical stimulation.
In addition, electroactive polymers are integrated with the electronics. Upon activation, these polymers are able to release medication, such as growth factors or small molecules on demand.
"We first ensured that the cells would contract in the patch, which explains the need for organic material," Dvir explained.
"But, just as importantly, we needed to verify what was happening in the patch and regulate its function. We also wanted to be able to release drugs from the patch directly onto the heart to improve its integration with the host body," Dvir explained.
The practical realisation of the technology may take some time, the researchers said.
"This is a breakthrough, to be sure," Dvir said.
"But I would not suggest bingeing on cheeseburgers or quitting sports just yet. The practical realization of the technology may take some time. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to keep your heart healthy," Dvir noted.