Watch: How nanotechnology is helping heart failure

Watch our animation to find out how nanotechnology – the science and technology of very tiny things, is helping BHF researchers look for new treatments that could help heart failure patients.

What happens when you have heart failure?

Heart failure affects an estimated 920,000 people in the UK. It means that your heart can't pump blood as well as it should do. One of the most common causes of heart failure is a heart attack.

Medicines can help, but at the moment there is no cure for heart failure

After a heart attack the damaged heart muscle can become stiff. This means your heart can't beat as well as it did.

Heart muscle stiffness is also caused by inherited heart conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy, which also mean your heart can't beat efficiently.

Medicines can help, but at the moment there is no cure.

Using nanotechnology to imitate the heart

At Queen Mary University of London, the BHF is funding a scientist called Dr Thomas Iskratsch. He's looking at why stiffness means the heart can't beat so well, and how we can change this.

Dr Iskratsch is using nanotechnology - the science and technology of very tiny things. One nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.

Each pillar is 500 nanometres wide - 150 times smaller than the width of a human hair

Your heart muscle is made up of cells that sit in a kind of mesh made of collagen and other structural proteins. When the heart muscle is damaged by a heart attack or cardiomyopathy, the mesh gets stiffer. 

In the lab, Dr Iskratsch and his team use nanotechnology to imitate the heart's mesh with tiny pillars. Each one is 500 nanometres wide - 150 times smaller than the width of a human hair. 

Researchers put heart cells on these pillars, then measure what happens to them when the pillars get stiffer. They do this with an advanced imaging technique that uses microscopes and tiny lasers to look at individual molecules inside cells. 

Looking for new treatments

Dr Iskratsch's team discovered that if the pillars making up the mesh get stiffer, the heart muscle cells notice and stop working properly - so the heart function gets even worse. Dr Iskratch thinks it is this process that, over time, leads to heart failure. 

This discovery means the researchers can look for drugs that will help the heart cells work better when the mesh gets stiffer.

These findings could help us discover new treatments for heart failure. 

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