A 'cyborg heart patch' has been created by scientists in Israel, with the ability to contract and expand like human tissue while regulating itself like a machine. While transferring this technology into medicine is some way off, scientists from Tel Aviv University say the breakthrough could lead to new treatment for hearts permanently damaged, as well as the possibility of applying it to the brain and spinal cord for neurological conditions.
At present, heart patches do not allow for the online monitoring and reporting of tissue performance. The bionic heart patch created by scientists combines organic and engineered parts. It replaces damaged organic tissue, but the integrated electronics mean it can be remotely monitored. A study of the cyborg heart has been published in the journal Nature Materials.
Study author Tal Dvir and colleagues created the cyborg heart patch by integrating cardiac cells with flexible, freestanding electronics, along with a 3D nanocomposite scaffold. The electronics could sense tissue function and provide electrical stimulation. Electroactive polymers were also integrated with the electronics that can release medication, including growth factors.
"The patch exhibited robust electronic properties, enabling the recording of cellular electrical activities and the on-demand provision of electrical stimulation for synchronising cell contraction," the study said. "We also show that electroactive polymers containing biological factors can be deposited on designated electrodes to release drugs in the patch microenvironment on demand."
The ability to monitor and release drugs to the heart remotely would mean interventions could be made to stabilise the pace and activate drugs to regenerate tissue in real time. Dvir said: "With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue. 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."
Eventually, the team hopes to create a cardiac patch that can regulate its own welfare: "In other words, if it senses inflammation, it will release an anti-inflammatory drug," Dvir said. If it senses a lack of oxygen, it will release molecules that recruit blood-vessel-forming cells to the heart."
The researchers said they expect that eventually electronics will be integrated into cardiac patches to provide therapeutic control and the regulation of heart function, but this technology is still far from being used in humans.
"I would not suggest binging on cheeseburgers or quitting sports just yet," Dvir said. "The practical realisation of the technology may take some time. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is still the best way to keep your heart healthy."