‘Heart attack on a chip’ could unlock new cardiac treatments


A biomedical device dubbed a ‘heart attack on a chip’ could one day be used in the development of more effective treatments for patients recovering from a cardiac event, its designers from the University of Southern California say.

The device consists of a 2x2cm microfluidic framework made from a rubber-like polymer called PDMS with channels running through it on either side that gas can flow through. Within it is a microlayer of rodent heart cells that are grown on a scaffold of proteins patterned to mirror the structure of heart tissue.

Heart attacks occur when fat, cholesterol and other substances in the coronary arteries severely reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to part of the heart.

In the device, this effect can be mimicked by passing gas with or without oxygen through the microfluid in the channels.

“Our device replicates some key features of a heart attack in a relatively simple and easy to use system,” said Megan McCain, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, who developed the device.

“This enables us to more clearly understand how the heart is changing after a heart attack. From there, we and others can develop and test drugs that will be most effective for limiting the further degradation of heart tissue that can occur after a heart attack.”

After recovering from a heart attack, patients’ heart cells are unable to regenerate like other muscle cells. Heart tissue may also suffer from scarring which leads to a reduction in the amount of blood the heart can pump around the body. Researchers do not currently understand how this happens.

The device will allow researchers to observe these changes in real time and study changes in heart rhythm and contraction strength in the lab.

“It is very exciting and rewarding to envision our device having a positive impact on patient lives in the near future, especially for heart attacks, which are extremely prevalent,” said McCain.

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