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MIT team aims to mend broken hearts

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--MIT engineers are significantly closer to mending broken hearts.

In a paper to appear the week of Dec. 13 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they report creating a small swatch of heart tissue that displays many of the hallmarks of mature cardiac tissue, including regular contractions.

"We have been trying to engineer a patch of tissue that has the same properties as native heart tissue, or myocardium, that could be attached over injured myocardium," said Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a principal research scientist in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) and leader of the work.

"Think of it as a patch for a broken heart," she said.

The MIT approach involves seeding cardiac cells, in this case from a rat, onto a 3D polymer scaffold that slowly biodegrades as the cells develop into a full tissue. The cell/scaffold constructs, which are a little smaller than a dime and about the same thickness, are bathed in a medium that supplies nutrients and gases.

In a patent-pending technique, the researchers then apply electrical signals designed to mimic those in a native heart. They do so by essentially connecting the constructs to a pacemaker. "Initially we had no idea if this would work. As it turns out, electrical stimulation was crucial for rapid assembly of functional tissue," said Milica Radisic, MIT PhD 2004, who will be joining the faculty of the University of Toronto next year.

After only eight days of cultivation, single cells grew into a tissue "with a remarkable level of structural and functional organization," Vunjak-Novakovic said.

"The real advance here is we mimicked what the body does itself and got it to work," said Robert Langer, the Germeshausen Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and another member of the team.

Other authors of the PNAS article are Hyoungshin Park, an HST research engineer
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
13-Dec-2004


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