The problems involved in keeping a heart disease patient alive are complex and interconnected. Keeping a heart beating can require muscular, electrical, and medicinal treatments. A pacemaker by itself is not enough, nor are pharmaceuticals.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have addressed this challenge with a multifaceted approach. They have combined digital electronics, living tissues, and polymers to create a “cyborg” patch for human hearts. A conductive matrix supports digital devices that can both sense electrical activity in the heart muscle, and emit electrical stimulation when needed. The matrix also serves to support living cardiac cells on nanofiber scaffolding, which can expand and contract along with the patient’s heart tissues. And the plastic components can carry a drug payload; the material responds to electrical stimulation by releasing the medication as needed. These medications can fight infection or inflammation, or can help promote healing and regrowth of the patient’s own tissues.
The result is a device that can be embedded onto the surface of a patient’s damaged heart to create a bi-directional flow of information. The device can report on the patient’s heart condition in real time, providing data that can be monitored by healthcare professionals. And it can be used to provide immediate treatment, whether drugs or electrical stimulation is required. The goal is to create a closed system that will contain intelligence to respond on its own to various heart problems as they arise. For now, this exists only in the realm of laboratory experiments, but in the future, it could help patients live longer.