Researchers at Brown University, Soochow University, Fudan University and Hebei University of Technology have developed an inexpensive hydrogel patch that has demonstrated the ability to reduce heart damage post-heart attack. The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering on April 15, was performed in rodents and demonstrated that a hydrogel-based patch applied to the heart could reduce cell death, oxidative stress and scar tissue accumulation, markers of heart damage.

Previous research has demonstrated that mechanical patches could help prevent permanent damage post-heart attack. Hearts must continue to pump blood throughout the body after a heart attack, which can put stress on the muscles of the heart and cause them to stretch out, thereby reducing their ability to function.

Lin and colleagues first generated detailed models of the mechanics of a normal beating heart, and then used this information to test mechanical patches that would help support the heart without over-restricting it. The researchers then determined how hearts remodel post-heart attack to determine the required properties of mechanical support to prevent the development of permanent damage. The hydrogel patch produced in this study is cheap, effective and nontoxic.

While the results of this study are promising, these hydrogel patches remain to be tested in humans. There are estimated to be more than 800,000 cases of heart attack (myocardial infarction) in the US every year. The development of a hydrogel patch that is deployable in humans and is effective at protecting patients against post-heart attack damage would be an important supplement in the medical treatment of heart attack.