Patients who have suffered a heart attack may have a new form of therapy through injectable hydrogels that can repair weakened tissue and possibly prevent future heart failure.
Modified injectable hydrogel polymers could provide mechanical support to damaged areas of the heart, according to University of Pennsylvania research presented last week at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Jason Burdick, Ph.D., professor in bioengineering at Penn and leader of the study, thinks these gels could be a difference maker when it comes to the damage heart attacks can leave behind.
"After a heart attack the tissue undergoes a series of events including inflammation and matrix degradation, termed left ventricular remodeling," he says. "This changes the size and composition of the heart. If the heart attack is severe, this may even lead to heart failure. Injectable hydrogels can provide many therapeutic benefits, including the delivery of cells and drugs for repair. In this approach, the hydrogels help to reduce stresses in the heart wall, which can minimize some of the damage to the heart and maintain function."
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According to the American Heart Association more than 750,000 people experience heart attacks in the U.S. each year, and more than 5 million patients are living with heart failure.New treatments for heart failure continue to crop up, but many serve as a stopgap solution. Burdick says that these new hydrogels contain unique mechanical properties that can be controlled to promote heart support and improve therapy results.
"These hydrogels are comprised of a polymer hyaluronic acid, which is used in numerous medical therapies and in cosmetics," Burdick said. "They are modified with various chemical groups to permit the formation of hydrogels, and to control their properties. These properties are important to permit injection of the material and to control the mechanical properties. Our work has shown that hydrogels that have increased mechanics improve the results of therapy."
The new hydrogel therapy was also designed to provide an alternative to patients whose only option is surgery to repair damaged heart tissue or to remove scar tissue. In a recent experiment, Burdick and his colleagues tested the gels on sheep and found that the gel limited the formation of scar tissue while also limiting the thinning of the heart's walls. They also found that the gel limited enlargement of the heart, which can also reduce blood loss from the mitral valve--all of which help maintain the heart's ability to efficiently pump blood and stave off heart failure.
As the group moves forward with their research, the next step is to finalize the hydrogel formulation and delivery method so they can prepare for clinical trials. Burdick says they even plan to explore different therapeutic agents to increase the efficacy of the treatment.
"We will continue to understand how these materials work to produce the best therapy, including the introduction of other therapeutic agents into the hydrogel," he says. "We are now exploring the best ways to deliver the material down a catheter, which would allow for minimally invasive delivery, and these hydrogels could be used for the treatment of other tissues, as they have great properties for being injectable."
Kristopher Sturgis is a contributor to Qmed.
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[Image courtesy of ACS]