Towards Self-Regulating Bioartificial Heart Patches

It is presently technically feasible to build small medical implants made of a mix of electronics, processors, drug manufactories, and tissues, which can be self-regulating or connected via wireless to external computing systems. The heavy hand of regulation in the medical industry ensures that such development in the field is far behind where it might be, particularly in matters of network security for medical technologies, but progress in the labs isn't as constrained - there is still some room there to build on the basis of what is possible rather than what regulators permit. Even in recent years most bioartificial implants under development have been much more device than tissue, such as those intended to replicate some of the functions of the pancreas, for example, but in this case researchers aim at building patches for damaged and aged hearts that are mostly cells with a thin layering of artificial components:

The bionic heart patch combines organic and engineered parts. In fact, its capabilities surpass those of human tissue alone. The patch contracts and expands like human heart tissue but regulates itself like a machine. "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. We first ensured that the cells would contract in the patch, which explains the need for organic material. But, just as importantly, we needed to verify what was happening in the patch and regulate its function. We also wanted to be able to release drugs from the patch directly onto the heart to improve its integration with the host body."

For the new bionic patch, researchers engineered thick bionic tissue suitable for transplantation. The engineered tissue features electronics that sense tissue function and accordingly provide electrical stimulation. In addition, electroactive polymers are integrated with the electronics. Upon activation, these polymers are able to release medication, such as growth factors or small molecules on demand. "Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well. His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient's file - in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar. The longer-term goal is for the cardiac patch to be able to regulate its own welfare. In other words, if it senses inflammation, it will release an anti-inflammatory drug. If it senses a lack of oxygen, it will release molecules that recruit blood-vessel-forming cells to the heart."



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