Israeli engineers have developed a bionic patch that could help heal damaged heart tissue and prolong life of people with serious heart conditions.
The patch, created by a team from Tel Aviv University, contains organic as well as electronic parts. It expands and contracts in the same way as real human heart tissue, ensuring the heart functions properly. Its sensitive electronic sensors detect abnormalities in heart rhythm and provide electronic stimulation if necessary.
"With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue," said Professor Tal Dvir, who led the study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Materials.
"It's very science fiction, but it's already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way.”
In future, the researchers would like to add functionality that would allow the patch to sense what is going on in its environment and release drugs if it detects abnormalities.
“The longer-term goal is for the cardiac patch to be able to regulate its own welfare,” Professor Dvir explained. “In other words, if it senses inflammation, it will release an anti-inflammatory drug. If it senses a lack of oxygen, it will release molecules that recruit blood-vessel-forming cells to the heart."
Ultimately, physicians could be able to remotely control drug-release processes based on the data received about the patient’s condition from the smart connected patch.
"Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well," Professor Dvir said. "His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient's file - in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar.”
The patch is rather thick and suitable for transplantations. The team envisions that in future, it could solve the problem of the lack of donor hearts. Many heart failure sufferers die every year while waiting for a suitable organ to become available. In the USA alone, more than 25 per cent of those on transplant waiting lists die before receiving a new heart.
"But I would not suggest binging on cheeseburgers or quitting sports just yet,” Dvir said. “The practical realisation of the technology may take some time. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to keep your heart healthy."
The team would like to develop a similar system to for the brain and spine to treat neurological conditions.