Electric repairs for heart damage?

 

SMALL PRINTS: Could electrified nanotubes offer a route to help repair damaged hearts in the future?

In what could justifiably be described as a pretty cool experiment, researchers at NUI Galway and Trinity College Dublin took adult mesenchymal stem cells (from human bone marrow) and mixed them together in the lab with carbon nanotubes.

When they applied an electric current, the stem cells became electrified and they morphed into more cardiac-like cells, explains researcher Dr Valerie Barron from Remedi at National University of Ireland Galway.

So where did they get the idea to do that? “Cardiac muscle is an electro-active tissue, capable of transferring electric signals and allowing the heart to beat, and carbon nanotubes are electro-active nanoparticles,” Barron says. “We knew that carbon nanotubes could be taken up by stem cells, so we thought that we could manipulate this ability to create an alternative electro-active cell source for cardiac muscle repair.”

The development, which is described in recent papers in Biomaterials and Macromolecular Bioscience, is still a long way from the clinic, but ultimately it could offer a way to generate electro-active cells such as heart or nerve cells, explains co-author Dr Mary Murphy.

“Mesenchymal stem cells are found in the bone marrow and can be readily obtained to create a reservoir of reparative cells for a range of damaged tissues and organs,” she says.

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