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Injectable tissue patch to repair damaged organs
August 20, 2017, 12:47 pm

Researchers at the University of Toronto (UoT) have developed a micro tissue bandage capable of repairing heart tissue.

Heart tissue destroyed or damaged by a heart attack or medical condition is usually repaired by using regenerative cells or tissues through invasive open-heart surgery. But now a team of biomedical engineers at UoT have developed a technique that lets them use a small needle to inject a repair patch, without the need to open up the chest cavity.

After a myocardial infarction — a heart attack — the heart's function is reduced so much that invasive procedures like open-heart surgery usually pose more risks than potential benefits. An injectable rejuvenating heart patch would be a welcome relief to heart surgeons.

After several years of trial, the engineering team at UoT was finally able to develop an injectable patch design that matched the mechanical properties of target tissue, and also had the required shape-memory behavior, which allowed it to unfold into a bandage-like shape as it emerged from the needle.

The next step was to seed the patch with real heart cells. After letting them grow for a few days, they injected the patch into rats and pigs. Not only did the injected patch unfold to nearly the same size as a patch implanted by more invasive methods, the heart cells also survived the procedure well.

"When we saw that the lab-grown cardiac tissue was functional and not affected by the injection process, that was very exciting. Heart cells are extremely sensitive, so if we can do it with them, we can likely do it with other tissues as well," said the research team.

The scaffold is built out of the same biocompatible, biodegradable polymer that over time will naturally break down, leaving behind the new tissue. The team also showed that injecting the patch into rat hearts can improve cardiac function after a heart attack: damaged ventricles pumped more blood than they did without the patch.

There is still a long way to go before the material is ready for clinical trials. The engineering team is now collaborating with other researchers to assess the long-term stability of the patches, as well as whether the improved cardiac function can be maintained. They are also exploring the use of the patch in other organs, such as the liver.

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