Heart disease is the number one killer in the world. If someone survives a heart attack, he is already at a much greater risk for another one, and needs to make lifestyle changes to keep his heart healthy. A cardiac rehabilitation program is highly recommended after a heart episode, and it has been shown to seriously reduce the risk of another heart attack and fatality. One of the goals of a cardiac rehab program is to strengthen the heart muscles so as to avoid another cardiac episode. This can take several weeks with varying results. A research team, seeking to improve the odds, has invented a new heart patch that helps prevent muscle stretching after a heart attack and speeds up recovery time.
A new approach to cardiac rehabilitation
The new patch, created by a team of scientists at Brown University’s school of engineering in conjunction with cardiology researchers at Fudon University and mechanical engineers at Soochow University, is meant to let the damaged part of the heart heal while it still continues to pump. The challenge to overcome after a heart attack is that the heart must continue to pump blood, even though part of it is somewhat damaged.
The new patch seeks to alleviate the pressure on the damaged heart part and allow it to heal faster and better. Huajian Gao, engineering professor at Brown and co-author of the paper, said “Part of the reason that it’s hard for the heart to recover after a heart attack is that it has to keep pumping. The idea here is to provide mechanical support for damaged tissue, which hopefully gives it a chance to heal.” The patch has an adhesive, so it get simply stuck to the heart and stays there.
Researchers used computer simulations to get the exact fit and style of the patch right, and they tested it with positive results on rats.
Making it work
Gao notes that the idea for a mechanical patch to heal the heart has been in the works for a long time, but no one had done any long term research into the properties that would make it most effective. This means the size, thickness and material of the optimal patch. This team set out to test it all and make the patch a reality. They saw that if the patch would be too stiff, the heart wouldn’t have the space or ability to move, but a patch that was too soft wouldn’t give the muscles the support they need. They ultimately used a water-based hydrogel material that has added starch to give it more texture and support. They said the patch was extremely cheap, less than one penny for each one, as well as very easy to produce. It’s also nontoxic, making it a potential game-changer for cardiac rehabilitation.
The findings show that with the patch, there were fewer cell deaths and less scar tissue. Ning Sun, one of the authors of the study and a cardiology researcher at Fudon, said “The patch provided nearly optimal mechanical supports after myocardial infarction.” The authors say that everything shows positivity and promise, and they don’t see any reason why this patch shouldn’t perform the way that they expect.
The Alameda Center’s cardiac rehabilitation program has all of the latest innovations in cardiac care. Our expert staff provides excellent care for our cardiac patients.