An alternative to heart transplants is a very real possibility in the future.
Scientists from Tel Aviv University unveiled a remote-controlled, bionic heart patch that can deliver tissue regeneration drugs to users in real-time. For victims of heart attacks or cardiac disease this is revolutionary, as damaged hearts can’t be transplanted safely.
The patch expands and contracts the like a real heart, but can be paced and programmed to release any necessary medicines.
“It’s very science fiction, but it’s already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way,” says Prof. Tal Dvir, who created the invention with PhD student Ron Feiner.
“Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results. Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly.”
They call it the Cyborg Cardiac Patch, and it actually uses real, living cardiac cells able to expand and contract. This is combined with engineered, man-made tissues loaded with nano-electronics; it can provide information on what’s happening in the patch, provide stimulation, and like mentioned before, release growth stimulants or drugs.
Dvir explains just how useful his bionic heart will be in the journal Nature Materials:
“Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well. 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 longer-term goal is for the cardiac patch to be able to regulate its own welfare. 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.”
Currently, there’re 4,145 people waiting for a heart transplant in the US. Around a quarter will die before they receive the heart they need. It puts the need for an alternative to heart transplants and treatments into perspective.
The practical use of the bionic heart patch is still in the distant future, so don’t stop exercising and eating healthy just yet.