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Repairing Heart Attack Damage

Tissue spins in a beaker at the end of the cleansing process that removes the cells. The process retains the tissue's structural proteins, a key component of the semi-solid, porous hydrogel. The gel forms a scaffold to encourage cells to repopulate areas of the heart damaged by heart attack.

A new injectable hydrogel developed in the laboratory of bioengineering professor Karen Christman could be an effective and safe treatment for tissue damage caused by heart attacks.

The hydrogel would be a welcome development, according to Christman, since there are an estimated 785,000 new heart attack cases in the United States each year, with no established treatment for repairing the resulting damage to cardiac tissue. Christman's research, reported earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that the gel can be injected through a catheter, a method that is minimally invasive and does not require surgery or general anesthesia. Christman has co-founded a company, Ventrix, Inc., to bring the gel to clinical trials within the next year.

The hydrogel is made from porcine cardiac connective tissue that is stripped of heart muscle cells through a cleansing process, freeze-dried and milled into powder form, and then liquefied into a fluid that can be easily injected into the heart. Once it hits body temperature, the liquid turns into a semi-solid, porous scaffold that encourages cells to repopulate areas of damaged cardiac tissue and to preserve heart function. The hydrogel may also provide biochemical signals that prevent further deterioration in the surrounding tissues.

“It helps to promote a positive remodeling-type response, not a pro-inflammatory one in the damaged heart,” Christman said.

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