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Crab shell patch could help keep hearts beating after attack

Crab Shell

Crab Shell

Researchers have created a material, that includes a chemical found in a crab’s shell, that can bridge the gap in the heart’s electrical signals caused by a heart attack. The international collaboration, involving Imperial College London and the University of New South Wales, was co-funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

A heart attack can leave a person’s heart damaged and unable to pump blood around the body effectively, a condition known as heart failure.

The new patch, which can be attached to the heart without the need for stitches, has now been shown to improve the movement of the heart’s electrical pulses across scarred heart tissue in rats.

The research was published Tuesday in the scientific journal Science Advances.

After a heart attack, scars are formed within the heart muscle. These scars are our body’s way of repairing damaged heart tissue after a heart attack. However, they can also block the electrical signals that control the coordination of the heart’s pumping action causing heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias).

The electrically-conductive patch is made from three components: a film of chitosan, a chemical found in crab shells that is often used as a food additive; polyaniline, a conductive material; and phytic acid, a substance found in plants, which is added to the polyaniline to switch it to its conducting state.

Prof. Molly Stevens, who led the research at Imperial College London, said: “For people who have suffered a heart attack and have heart failure, arrhythmias are a common and very serious problem, which this patch has the potential to help with.

“No stitches are required to attach it, so it is minimally invasive and potentially less damaging to the heart.”

In addition to helping to prevent arrhythmias in scarred hearts this patch may also advance our ability to use stem cells to regenerate damaged heart tissue.

Professor Sian Harding, Director of the BHF Centre of Regenerative Medicine at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study, said:

“When a person has a heart attack, they are not only left with scarring but sections of their heart muscle can also be left damaged, meaning that the heart is less able to pump blood around the body.

“We are working on using stem cells to replace this damaged muscle. However, when stem cells are first introduced into the heart they don’t immediately beat at the same time as the rest of the heart muscle. This heart patch could help us to address this issue and ultimately bring us one step closer to being able to mend broken hearts.”

So far, the patch has been shown to work in rats but is still some way off being used in patients. The next step is to use tissue taken from human failing hearts removed at transplant as well as mathematical modelling to try to predict whether the patch will have the same effects for a much bigger human heart.

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Crab shellHeart Attack


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