Heart monitor and doctors in hospital operating theatre

Hydrogel injection could help heal muscles after heart attack

Image credit: Timwege/Dreamstime

A European research team has developed an injectable hydrogel that could help repair and prevent further damage to the heart muscle following a heart attack.

Myocardial infarction, or heart disease, is a leading cause of death because of the irreversible damage caused to the heart muscle (cardiac tissue) during a heart attack. The regeneration of cardiac tissue is minimal, so the damage caused cannot repair by itself. Current treatments lack an effective method to prevent death and subsequent cardiac tissue repair following a heart attack.

The hydrogel, developed by collaborators at CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices based at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway and BIOFORGE Lab at the University of Valladolid in Spain, derives from a family of unique biomaterials, called elastin-like recombinamers, that BIOFORGE-UVa had developed in the search for advanced hydrogels for regenerative medicine. 

“This project involved the development and testing of an elastin-based hydrogel derived from a naturally occurring biomaterial in the human body,” said Professor Abhay Pandit, scientific director of CÚRAM at NUI Galway and project lead. “We developed the hydrogel to mimic the environment around the heart following an infarction and then customised to protect and promote regeneration of the cardiac tissue.”

The researchers assessed the therapeutic effect of multiple injections of this hydrogel into the cardiac tissue during the first ever preclinical study of its kind, demonstrating its efficacy for cardiac tissue remodelling following a heart attack.

Graphic of heart and injectable hydrogel

Graphic of heart and injectable hydrogel

Image credit: CÚRAM, National University of Ireland Galway

The international research team, which included researchers from Ireland, Spain, Sweden, France, and Italy, found that if their hydrogel were to be injected into the heart muscle shortly after a heart attack, it resulted in less fibrosis (scarring of the cardiac tissue) and an increase in the generation of new blood vessels in the area. They were also able to observe the rise in the preservation and survival of cardiomyocytes, a type of cell that allows the heart to beat in the affected area.

“This project demonstrates the efficacy of a unique biomaterial-only system able to induce a positive healing effect on cardiac tissue following a heart attack event,” added Professor Pandit. “The functional benefits obtained by the timely injection of the hydrogel supports and highlights the potential use of this treatment in the clinic. The next step will be to develop a prototype for a delivery system for the hydrogel.”

Professor Mark Da Costa, a cardiothoracic surgeon at College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, NUI Galway and senior co-author of the study, said the team employed a model to specifically look at a type of heart attack that has increased in incidence, and experts rarely treat this until the acute phase resolves. 

“Scar tissue that forms after the heart attack often remodels negatively, causing future problems like heart failure. The timely injection of this hydrogel appears to change the way the heart muscle heals after a heart attack,” he explained further. “There is a significant positive histological, biological and functional recovery of the injured heart muscle. Work is progressing now to deliver this to the sites of injury in different clinical settings, followed by a translation into a clinical trial.”

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