BHF scientists create a patch to bypass scars caused by a heart attack

1 December 2016        

Category: Research

A person clasping their hands over their heart

An international collaboration of researchers that we've part-funded has successfully created a material designed to bridge the gap in the heart’s electrical signals caused by a heart attack.

A heart attack can leave a person’s heart damaged and unable to pump blood around the body effectively, a condition known as heart failure. Over half a million people in the UK are living with heart failure. 

The new patch, which can be attached to the heart without the need for stitches, has now been shown to improve the movement of the heart’s electrical pulses across scarred heart tissue in rats. The research has been conducted by scientists at Imperial College London and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is published today in the scientific journal Science Advances.

Scarring after a heart attack

After a heart attack, scars are formed within the heart muscle. These scars are our body’s way of repairing damaged heart tissue after a heart attack. However, they can also block the electrical signals that control the coordination of this same pumping action by the heart.

The electrically-conductive patch is made from three components: a film of chitosan, a chemical found in crab shells that is often used as a food additive; polyaniline, a conductive material; and phytic acid, a substance found in plants, which is added to the polyaniline to switch it to its conducting state.

Dr Damia Nawad of UNSW, who developed the patch, said: "Our suture-less patch represents a big advance. We have shown it is stable and retains its conductivity in physiological conditions for more than two weeks, compared with the usual one day of other designs."

Next steps

So far, the patch has been shown to work in rats but is still some way off being used in patients. The next step is to use tissue taken from failing human hearts removed at transplant as well as mathematical modelling to try to predict whether the patch will have the same effects for a much bigger human heart.

Professor Sian Harding, Director of the BHF Centre of Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study, said:

"We are working on using stem cells to replace the damaged muscle. However, when stem cells are first introduced into the heart they don’t immediately beat at the same time as the rest of the heart muscle. This heart patch could help us to address this issue and ultimately bring us one step closer to being able to mend broken hearts."

Professor Cesare Terracciano, Professor of Cardiac Electrophysiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, also helped to develop the patch. Read his blog Brexit: a personal view of a European scientist in the UK.

Mending broken hearts

Through our Mending Broken Hearts Appeal we have already funded over £25 million for groundbreaking research which will provide real benefits for people living with heart failure.

Find out more about the BHF’s research to beat heart failure.

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