Although medical advances over recent years have seen the majority of people surviving heart attacks, the damage done to the heart muscle is irreversible.
As a result, most patients eventually succumb to congestive heart failure, the most common cause of death in developed countries. Stem cells offer hope for achieving what the human body can’t do: mending broken hearts. Now researchers have built a scaffold that supports the growth and integration of stem cell-derived cardiac muscles cells. The scaffold supports the growth of cardiac cells in the lab and encourages blood vessel growth in living animals.
The tiny tubular porous scaffold, built by engineers and physicians at the University of Washington (UW), supports and stabilizes the fragile cardiac cells and can be injected into a damaged heart, where it will foster cell growth and eventually dissolve away. The new scaffold not only supports cardiac muscle growth, but also potentially accelerates the body’s ability to supply oxygen and nutrients to the transplanted tissue. Eventually, the idea is that doctors would seed the scaffold with stem cells from either the patient or a donor, then implant it when the patient is treated for a heart attack, before scar tissue has formed.
The use of scaffolds to help guide the growth of cells and tissue inside the body is a hot area of research. MIT researchers have demonstrated the effectiveness of a two-layer scaffold that can simulate bone and cartilage growth, while researchers at Columbia University have devised a tooth-shaped scaffold that would allow teeth to be grown inside a patient’s mouth.
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