Biodegradable gel injected into damaged hearts can help them heal after injury

We’re always hoping to see new treatments for heart ­problems but I never ­expected something as stunning as the new technology ­coming from Manchester University.

Scientists have been looking for ways to introduce new cells into damaged hearts for years, as a way to repair the organ and reduce the risk of progression to heart failure.

But historically, when cells have been injected directly into the heart, only 1% of them have remained in place and survived.

Manchester’s biodegradable gel could form a new type of treatment to help hearts regenerate after injury.

It can help to improve the delivery of cells directly into the living heart and could form a new generation of treatments to repair damage caused by a heart attack.

The gel has been safely injected into a beating mouse heart to act as a scaffold for cells to grow new tissue. The researchers hope it will become a key part of future regenerative treatments.

Katharine King, of Manchester University, led the research and said: “The heart has a very limited ability to repair any damage it sustains. Our research has been looking for ways to overcome this so we can keep the heart in a healthier place for longer.

“While it’s still early days, the ­potential this new technology has in helping to repair failing hearts after a heart attack is huge.

“We’re confident this gel will be an effective option for future cell-based therapies to help the heart regenerate.”

Researchers also showed that the gel can support growth of normal heart muscle. When they added human cells that had been reprogrammed to become heart muscle cells into the gel, they were able to grow them in a dish for three weeks and the cells started to beat.

In order to prove this technology could work in a living heart, the team injected the gel with a fluorescent tag into the hearts of healthy mice. Echocardiograms (ultrasounds of the heart) and electrocardiograms (to measure the electrical activity of the heart) confirmed the injection was safe.

Professor James Leiper, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We’ve come so far in our ability to treat heart attacks and today more people than ever survive.

“However, this also means that more people are surviving with damaged hearts and are at risk of developing heart failure. These gels could become a significant component of future treatments to repair the damage caused by heart attacks.”