Worcester Polytechnic Institute Receives National Institutes of Health Funding to Develop a Heart Muscle Patch

A bioengineered patch of woven biopolymer microthreads developed by researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute may help cardiac muscle beat more strongly after a heart attack.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been awarded a $452,000 National Institutes of Health grant to bioengineer a patch to help cardiac muscle beat more strongly and efficiently after a heart attack. Work funded by the three-year grant centers on biopolymer microthreads—about the width of a human hair—that can be braided into cable-like structures that mimic human muscle fibers and other connective tissues.

The project is led by George Pins, PhD, associate professor of biomedical engineering at WPI, who has pioneered the development of biopolymer microthreads as a platform technology for a variety of wound-healing and tissue regeneration applications.

“After a heart attack, scarring of the cardiac muscle limits the heart’s ability to pump, a fundamental problem we are trying to address with this effort,” Pins said. “We appreciate the NIH’s support of our work and look forward to an intense three years of research and development.”

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of death globally, with some 500,000 new cases of heart failure diagnosed annually in the United States alone. Currently, there is no technology available that can restore contractile function to a scarred section of heart muscle, so developing a new approach to help strengthen hearts damaged by chronic disease or a heart attack remains a major public health objective.

Made primarily of fibrin, a naturally occurring human protein that forms blood clots to stop bleeding after injury, the biopolymer microthreads Pins is developing were first conceived as a potential tool for repairing torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in the knee. The versatile microthreads have since been adapted for use as biological scaffolds to deliver cells or protein therapies for wound healing and skeletal muscle regeneration, among other purposes.

In the new project, Pins and the team will embed a series of microthreads in a fibrin hydrogel to form a composite “patch” to replicate the structure of heart…

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