Researchers at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus have pioneered a groundbreaking solution to correct infant congenital heart defects (CHD) by developing a biodegradable patch engineered from the patient’s own cells. This innovative approach aims to minimize the need for multiple invasive surgeries, providing a more sustainable alternative to the current non-living, non-degradable patches.

Globally, approximately nine in every 1,000 babies born are affected by congenital heart defects, a group of conditions present at birth due to improper heart development during pregnancy. While some simple defects may not require treatment, complex defects often necessitate invasive surgeries performed over several years, typically beginning in the first year of life. The implantation of a heart patch is a common procedure during these surgeries, but existing patches, made from non-living, non-degradable materials, face limitations such as failure to integrate with heart tissue and an inability to grow with the patient’s heart.

The researchers, led by Jeffrey Jacot, the corresponding author of the study, have crafted a biodegradable patch designed to address these challenges. Their patch, made from the patient’s own cells, holds the promise of correcting CHD, reducing the need for invasive surgeries, and surpassing the longevity of current patches.

Jacot emphasized the ultimate goal of creating lab-grown heart tissue from a patient’s cells to restructure the heart and correct defects. He highlighted the importance of replacing patches with healthy tissue before degradation to prevent long-term complications.

Engineering myocardial tissue poses unique challenges due to the heart’s asymmetry, limited regenerative capacity, and high metabolic demands. The researchers tackled these challenges using electrospinning—a process that creates nanofibers by applying electricity to a liquid solution. They constructed a thick, porous scaffold from biodegradable polycaprolactone (PCL) and filled it with fibrin, a key protein in blood clots. Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) were then seeded onto the scaffold, with observations revealing significant progress within three weeks. The scaffold supported contracting iPSC-derived cardiomyocytes and facilitated tissue thickening.

Jacot expressed confidence in the mechanical sufficiency of the scaffold for heart wall repair, noting that vascular cells infiltrated more than halfway through the scaffold in static culture within three weeks. While the patch requires further testing before human trials, the researchers are optimistic about its potential to revolutionize CHD treatments and address other cardiac conditions.

“This is the first successful demonstration of a very thick, porous electrospun patch specifically for cardiac tissue engineering,” Jacot concluded, signaling a significant leap forward in the field.

By Impact Lab