Cheap hydrogel patch may reduce damage after heart attack

Researchers have developed an inexpensive patch that could help support the heart muscle following a heart attack. The patch was developed by researchers with Brown University, Fudan University, and Soochow University; their work involves a patch that was optimized using a computer model of a beating heart. In addition, the patch costs only around a penny to make due to the inexpensive material it utilizes.

After a heart attack, the heart muscle is weakened and needs time to heal. This recovery process is complicated, however, because the heart is still required to pump following the attack. The damage caused by the heart attack puts the heart muscle at risk of stretching out; if that happens, the heart is no longer able to function as effectively as before.

Past research has found that mechanical patches that are placed on the heart may be able to provide the weakened muscle with support, aiding in the healing process while reducing the chance of stretching. There's an issue, though, and it revolves around fine-tuning the patch to offer just the right amount of support.

A patch that is too stiff may restrict the heart's ability to move properly, but a patch that's too flexible may not offer adequate support. That's where a newly detailed heart patch comes in; researchers optimized it using a computer heart model to ensure it offers support without taking things too far.

Talking about the research is Brown University graduate student Yue Liu, who led the modeling work in the study:

One part was to model normal heart function — the expanding and contracting. Then we applied our patch on the outside to see how it influenced that function, to make sure that the patch doesn't confine the heart. The second part was to model how the heart remodels after myocardial infarction, so then we could look at how much mechanical support was needed to prevent that process.

The patch is made from an inexpensive hydrogel material that is itself made from starch derived from food. The viscoelastic nature of this material means it has both solid and fluid properties; it becomes stiffer after being subjected to a certain amount of stress. As such, the patch can provide support for the damaged heart muscle while remaining fluid enough to accommodate its movement.

The patch was tested with rodents and found to decrease the amount of heart damage following a heart attack. Additional research is needed to determine whether it will offer similar benefits to humans.