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Human Achievement of the Day: Heart Gel Repairs Damage

Surviving a heart attack is not the end of the story for most people: for many survivors, tissue in the heart is damaged due to a lack of oxygen during a cardiac event that leads to problems and dangerous complications for the rest of their lives. Sometimes parts of the heart muscle die and damaged tissue is replaced with non-pumping scar tissue, which makes the heart weaker and less effective at putting oxygen into the blood.

When 30 percent or more of the heart muscle in the wall of the left ventricle is damaged after surviving a heart attack, patients likely develop congestive heart failure -- a condition that requires medication or cardiac bypass surgery. Left on its own the scar tissue will not heal. And that’s where science comes in.

During the last few years medical research has made leaps and bounds towards finding a solution to repairing scarred heart tissue. Most notably, stem cells taken from a patient’s own heart have proven a promising way to repair the damage.

An even more recent and promising breakthrough is today’s Human Achievement. Hydrogel is an injectable solution made out of cardiac connective tissue that has been cleansed of its heart muscle cells. The solution is freeze-dried and made into a powder that can be injected through a catheter directly into a person’s heart.

The hydrogel is made of cardiac connective tissue. The connective tissue is eliminated of its heart muscle cells through a cleansing process, and then it is freeze-dried and milled into a powder-like material. The powder is then made into a fluid that can be injected directly into the heart tissue.

The researchers from the University of California-San Diego who developed this treatment noted that when it was injected into the hearts of pigs with heart damage, it turned into a semi-solid gel that provided a “scaffold” for new tissue growth and improved the pigs’ condition. And perhaps the best part about Hydrogel is that it can be inserted through a catheter into the heart without surgery.

Christman believes that the liquid could be injected using a catheter, so surgery and general anesthesia would not be required. While other scientists have developed heart-repairing hydrogels before, she notes that those substances would not work with catheters, as they would gel too quickly.

The implications of this new treatment are far-reaching. In the past survivors of heart attacks had to live the rest of their lives with the after effects -- Hydrogel could help them truly reclaim their lives and live longer and healthier. Perhaps it will even be used to prevent future cardiac issues in people with undetected scarring of the heart. That’s something worth celebrating!