An Injectable Gel That Helps Heart Muscle Regenerate After Heart Attack

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Summary: Researchers have demonstrated a new approach for treating the damaged heart tissue after a heart attack with the help of an injectable hydrogel.

In mammals, including humans, after myocardial infarction (heart attack) there is a striking loss of cardiac cells (heart muscle cells/cardiomyocytes) and those which survive lose the ability to replicate effectively. With less of these contractile cardiac cells, the heart is unable to pump the blood properly which leads to increased mortality associated with the heart disease. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Perelman School of Medicine have used a mouse model to demonstrate a new approach for treating the damaged heart tissue after a heart attack with the help of an injectable hydrogel. This injectable hydrogel releases short gene sequences – microRNAs into the heart muscle which helps to restart replication in existing cardiac cells. The research findings were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Cardiac cells proliferation

Cardiomyocytes, green, proliferating in a mouse heart after gel injection. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

The microRNAs were able to inhibit some of the inherent “stop” signals that keep cardiac cells from replicating which resulted in reactivation of cardiomyocytes proliferative potential. MicroRNA-based therapies have been used in the past, but delivering the right amount of dose to the right place has been a consistent challenge. The hydrogel features attachment sites that keep the microRNAs in place. As the gel breaks down, it loses its grip on the microRNAs, which can slip out of the gel and into the cardiomyocytes. These encapsulate microRNAs are also protected degradation which increases their time period and effectively invades the target cells. The research team sees this microRNA-hydrogel approach as a new, more direct path for precision regenerative medicine.

Prof. Jason Burdick said, “We’re seeing a change in approaches for regenerative medicine, using alternatives to stem cell delivery”, “Here, instead of introducing new cells that can have their own delivery challenges, we’re simply turning on repair mechanisms in cells that survive injury in the heart and other tissues.”

More Information: Leo L. Wang et al, Sustained miRNA delivery from an injectable hydrogel promotes cardiomyocyte proliferation and functional regeneration after ischemic injury, Nature Biomedical Engineering (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41551-017-0157-y

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