Science-- there's something for everyone

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Inject your way to a healthy heart

Karen Christman and her colleagues from the University of California, San Diego have developed a way to treat heart problems via injection, rather than surgery.  They were able to repair rat hearts that had suffered from myocardial infarction (MI) by injecting a gel made from ventricular extracellular matrix (ECM). 

Here’s the recipe:

First, get some heart tissue.  You’ll most likely be using porcine tissue.  It’s similar to human heart tissue and you can get as much as you need.  Next, strip away the cells leaving behind the ECM proteins.  Freeze dry those proteins, grind them into powder and then use enzymes to liquefy that powder.  You now have an ECM hydrogel that’s liquid when sitting on the lab bench but a gel at body temperature.  When injected into an ailing heart, this gel forms a new scaffold upon which an animal’s own heart cells can assemble.

Tissue spins in a beaker at the end of the cleansing process that removes all of the cells. The process retains the tissue's structural proteins, a key component of the hydrogel.
UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

To be clear, we’re talking about repairing injured hearts simply by injecting a gel directly into the damaged area.  When this procedure was done on rats it preserved cardiac function after an MI.  In pigs, the hydrogel did not stray throughout the rest of the body but stayed at the heart site after injection. These are both promising results, though more animal experiments must be done before this procedure can be tested on humans. 

You can watch the preparation of the gel here.  You may want let the film clip fully load before starting it though.  When I tried to watch it too quickly, it kept restarting.