When someone has a heart attack, the damaged heart tissue doesn’t grow back. Instead, it’s replaced by non-beating scar tissue. As a result, the heart is permanently weakened. Now, however, researchers at Tel Aviv University are getting promising results using patches that contain cardiac cells and gold nanofibers.
As with other experimental heart patches, the idea behind these ones is that they could be surgically placed on damaged areas of the heart, where they would cause normal, beating heart tissue to grow back.
To create them, a team led by Dr. Tal Dvir started by integrating nanofibers (made of gold nanoparticles) into a three-dimensional nano-scaffolding made of biomaterials. That scaffolding was then “seeded” with heart muscle cells. The high conductivity of the gold allowed those cells to communicate with one another, by sending electrical signals through the network of nanofibers.
When viewed with an electron microscope, the cells were observed to be contracting in unison, which is essential to the proper beating of the heart. By contrast, cells that were placed on scaffolding without the embedded gold nanofibers displayed much weaker contractions.
After more lab work, Dr. Dvir is hoping to move on to human trials of the patches. Similar research is being conducted at MIT, where scientists have created electrically conductive tissue scaffolds that include cardiac cells and gold nanowires.