A healing patch holds tight to a beating heart

Cardiac muscle. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a bundle of cardiac muscle fibrils (green) from a healthy heart.

Heart muscle (artificially coloured). Stem cells embedded in a patch that sticks to the heart can form new muscle . Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/SPL

Medical research

Miniature plaster delivers stem cells designed to heal damaged heart tissue.

A 3D bioprinted ‘cardiac patch’ might be able to repair the damage caused by a heart attack.

Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, is a leading killer that permanently damages heart-muscle cells called cardiomyocytes. Researchers are interested in repairing the damage using cardiomyocytes made in the laboratory from stem cells, but integrating such cells into the heart has proved challenging.

Lijie Grace Zhang, at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her colleagues used 3D bioprinting to create patches of stretchable gel scaffolding that matched the curvature of the heart and could expand and contract as the heart beats. After being loaded with cardiomyocytes made from stem cells, these cardiac patches were placed onto the hearts of mice that had survived an experimental form of myocardial infarction.

After four months, the patches were still attached to the rodents’ beating hearts and had acquired a blood supply. The patches had also stimulated heart-muscle formation, providing a potential avenue for therapies that repair heart damage.

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