Saturday, January 19th | 13 Shevat 5779

August 4, 2013 3:02 pm

Israeli Researchers Engineer a ‘Heart of Gold’

avatar by Zach Pontz

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Heart in hand. Photo: Louise Docker.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University may have made a breakthrough in the field of  heart restoration through the use of gold nanofibers, reports.

Using the gold nanofibers (fibers with diameters less than 100 nanometers) in engineered heart tissue,the scientists have been able to optimize circulation and create tissues that mimic the heart’s coordinated electrical system.

In the event of a heart attack, heart tissue sustains irreparable damage since cells in the heart cannot multiply and the cardiac muscle contains few stem cells, writes NoCamels. When damaged, the heart tissue is unable to repair itself – becoming fibrotic and unable to contract properly.

“Gold has been found to increase the connectivity of biomaterials,” explains researcher Dr. Tal Dvir. With the addition of the gold particles, cardiac tissues contract much faster and stronger as a whole, he reports, making them more viable for transplants.

A major challenge in the development of cardiac patches, writes NoCamels, is the process of tissue engineering. Heart cells contain proteins responsible for transferring electrical signals. Tissue engineering leads to the loss of these proteins. “While the cells will start to produce them again naturally”, explains Dvir, “they take time to develop – time which a patient may not have. Until the cells are able to produce their own connectors once more, gold nanofibers can fill their role.”

“New tissues are created by placing cells taken from patients or animals onto a three-dimensional scaffolding made of biomaterials — any matter or surface that interacts with biological systems — which organize the cells into the proper formation as they grow. Dvir and his team used various chemical and physical processes to integrate gold nanoparticles into their scaffolds. The cells then interacted with each other through these gold nanoparticles,” explains NoCamels.

“Cells placed on the gold-embedded scaffolding had significantly stronger contractions compared to those on a scaffolding without gold. Importantly, the cells contracted in unison, demonstrating effective electrical signaling between them.”

According to NoCamels, 50 percent of heart attack victims die within five years of their initial attack, so restoration of heart function remains a challenge in the medical field.

And while the scientists at Tel Aviv admit they’re onto something, pre-clinical tests in the lab and, eventually, clinical trials with patients are still in order. Dvir tells NoCamels that he hopes to use a patient’s own cells when building the new tissue, therefore avoiding the risk of rejection.

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