Researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology have created a "cyborg heart patch" that may "single-handedly change the field of cardiac research," reports EurekAlert. The invention combines organic and engineered parts into a patch that regulates itself like a machine but expands and contracts like human heart tissue.
"With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue," professor Tal Dvir, one of the patch’s inventors, said. "It's very science fiction, but it's already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way. 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."
The patch is designed to be placed on diseased heart tissue and performs multiple functions while in place. The organic elements of the patch allow it to contract the heart muscle when the natural muscle tissue is too weak to do so. However, the patch’s integrated electronics and electroactive polymers are able to sense when medication, such as anti-inflammatories, are needed and release them automatically.
"We first ensured that the cells would contract in the patch, which explains the need for organic material," Dvir said. "But, just as importantly, we needed to verify what was happening in the patch and regulate its function. We also wanted to be able to release drugs from the patch directly onto the heart to improve its integration with the host body."
What’s more, however, is that once in place on a patient’s heart, their doctor could remotely monitor the patient and be automatically alerted to any problems as they arise. "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," Dvir said.
However, Dvir warns not to rely on his patch for proper heart functioning anytime soon. "The practical realization of the technology may take some time. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to keep your heart healthy."
His research on the cyborg heart patch is published in the journal Nature Materials.