Researchers led by Professor Sian Harding at Imperial College London have developed a patch made from stem cells that could help to repair hearts that have suffered damage from heart attacks.
The thumb-sized patches are made from the patient's own cells which are then converted into stems cells; these, in turn, are then developed into working "beating" heart muscle. One or more of the patches can be sewn onto a heart that has suffered irreparable damage to support the damaged muscle and to encourage it to pump more effectively. The patch also releases chemicals to help the cells repair and reproduce.
The aim is to one day have a supply of compatible patches for all patients to allow a person suffering from a heart attack to quickly undergo treatment and have one fitted.
Researcher Dr Richard Jabbour said: "One day, we hope to add heart patches to the treatments that doctors can routinely offer people after a heart attack.
"We could prescribe one of these patches alongside medicines for someone with heart failure, which you could take from a shelf and implant straight into a person."
Prof Metin Avkiran, an associate medical director at the BHF, which is funding the research, said: “This is a prime example of world-leading research that has the potential to mend broken hearts and transform lives around the globe. If clinical trials can show the benefits of these heart patches in people after a heart attack, it would be a great leap forward for regenerative medicine.
“Heart failure is a debilitating and life-changing condition with no cure, making everyday tasks incredibly difficult. If we can patch the heart up and help it heal, we could transform the outlook for these people.”
Initial tests in rabbits show the device appears to be safe with patient trials to begin in the next two years.