Researchers believe a biodegradable gel could someday help heal heart damage. By enabling stem cell delivery, this gel could help rebuild tissue—and possibly eliminate the need for some heart transplants.
Researchers list coronary disease as the most common cause of heart failure globally. More than nine million people die from the disease yearly. Doctors have made strides, yet many coronary patients “are surviving with damaged hearts,” according to the British Heart Foundation’s James Leiper.
Physical heart failure is bad; spiritual heart failure is worse. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life,” says Proverbs 4:23. Thankfully, God provides all that believers need in Christ for healthy spiritual hearts. And He cares deeply about physical heart health as well.
Stem cells have been widely used to help repair various kinds of tissue. But success with the heart has been more difficult.
In the past, surgeons injected stem cells directly into damaged hearts. But the cells didn’t survive long. A challenge, according to Leiper, “is that the heart is a mechanical structure and that the cells, if they’re injected alone, find it very difficult to find an anchor . . . in the heart to latch onto.”
A new hydrogel may be the answer. The substance “can be injected as a liquid,” says Leiper. It “then turns into a gel which retains the cells at the site of injury in the heart.” The gel allows stem cells to create a kind of framework for growing new cells.
Lead researcher Katharine King describes the process. “We used a fluorescent tag so that . . . we could track the gels within the hearts.” According to King, the research shows the gel doesn’t harm the hearts.
Though there are signs of progress, there are hurdles to overcome. One is “ensur[ing] that the hydrogel itself is compatible with the human body,” Leiper says.
So far, the research has been tested only in healthy lab mice. The gel with stem cells survived for two weeks after being injected into mouse hearts.
Next, researchers will examine whether stem cells delivered via gel can repair tissue damage in the heart. This will involve mice that have had heart attacks. Researchers will study how long cells stay in the heart, how well the heart beats after cardiac arrest, and differences between mice that have been treated and those that haven’t.
According to officials at the University of Manchester: “If the benefits are replicated in further research and then in patients, these gels could become a significant component of future treatments.”
Why? God allows those in the realm of science and medicine to explore remarkable and merciful ways to address suffering in His creation.