Heart tissue repairs itself with tissue-engineering platform  (Source: Columbia University)
This technique could improve treatment for health issues such as cardiovascular disease

Columbia Engineering researchers have developed a tissue-engineering platform that is capable of “patching” a damaged heart.  

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, study leader and professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and a team of researchers, have created a technique that could improve treatment for health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

"We are very excited about this new technique," said Vunjak-Novakovic. "This platform is very adaptable and we believe it could be readily extended to the delivery of other types of human stem cells we are interested in to rebuild the heart muscle and further our research of the mechanisms underlying heart repair." 

The new method is a revolutionary cell therapy that treats heart damage that comes after having a heart attack, known as myocardial infarction. To do this, researchers extracted the cells of the myocardium, which is a human heart muscle, and left a protein scaffold that is filled with human mesenchymal progenitors, which are stem cells that differentiate into other cell types. The scaffold also possesses mechanical properties and a solid architecture. The patches were then placed onto damaged heart tissue, where they released proteins that encouraged the original tissue to repair itself as well as stimulated the growth of new blood vessels. 

The controllable platform also made it easy to find "signaling mechanisms" that aid the repair process, which helps researchers understand the effect of scaffold design and cell roles on the heart's repairing process. This new technique for the first time uses both human repair cells -- which were conditioned during in-vitro culture to improve blood flow and revascularize infarcted tissue -- and a "fully biological composite" scaffold -- which sends cells to the damaged heart -- to enhance cell survival and function in the infarct bed. Many of these cells die due to problems with blood supply, but now, researchers can patch the heart to encourage cell growth.

"It really is encouraging to make progress with 'instructing' cells to form human tissues by providing them with the right environments," said Vunjak-Novakovic. "The cells are the real 'tissue engineers' - we only design the environments so they can do their work. Because these environments need to mimic the native developmental milieu, the progress in the field is really driven by the interdisciplinary work of bioengineers, stem cell biologists, and clinicians. By enabling regeneration and replacement of our damaged tissues, we can help people live longer and better."

The next step is to look into the creation of a contractile cardiac patch that can treat vascular and muscle compartments of the heart muscle through human stem cells. Vunjak-Novakovic would like to eventually see these controllable platforms assembled and used in operating rooms to detect signaling mechanisms that have to do with the heart's repair process 

This study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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