Science Simplified 3/01/23

By Reagan Oliver, Staff Writer

A new biomaterial is sure to make your heart jump with joy: Scientists are closer than ever to reversing heart damage to heart attack survivors. 

A heart attack kills the cardiac muscle tissue in the heart, creating permanent damage. The scar tissue that builds up after a heart attack prohibits the heart from functioning normally again, creating significant health problems for those who survive myocardial infarction. Survivors of a heart attack are more likely to have a stroke, kidney disorder or peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

Karen Christman, a bioengineer at the University of California San Diego, and her team of researchers have discovered a new biomaterial that can heal damaged cardiac tissue from the inside out. Previous research has shown that stem cells derived from body fat can heal bones and muscles, including the heart. 

Christman and her team took this research and expanded upon it to make the materials even more suited for healing the heart. Her team produced a hydrogel with stem cell particles. After repeated animal trials, Christman and her team finally created a thin material to deliver the healing particles to heart blood vessels intravenously. This material can then be injected into the heart, healing the damaged tissue from the inside out. 

Despite this victory, when used in animal testing, the material did not slip through the gaps in the cardiac blood vessels to adhere to the damaged tissue. Instead, the material is attached to the leaky vessels which prevented some inflammatory cells from moving into the heart tissue, worsening the situation. Once her team figures out this last step, more safety checks will be run. Then this chemical will be ready for human clinical trials. But this new innovative material doesn’t stop there. This material can also potentially treat leaky blood vessels in other delicate organs, such as the brain. This would aid in post-concussion treatment or other traumatic injuries.