Having a heart attack is no longer an automatic death sentence, but as an increasing number of people survive, it means more of them are living with a damaged heart.
In one lab at University College in London, scientists are looking at a new way of regenerating heart cells by injecting healthy cells embedded in tissue or plaster, which not only replace the dead cells but also trigger regeneration in the damaged area of the heart.
Dr Suwan Jayasinghe, a bioengineer at University College in London, explained the process: “You put your cells in a liquid that is friendly to the cells and then you push this solution down an electrically charged needle. When the needle ejects these cells they form a spray, much like a spray that you form if you cough, or spit, or something like that.”
A powerful electrical current passes through the needle to create an electric field controlling the cells. Through a microscope it is possible to see heart cells growing, ready to be grafted into the heart.
Vassilis Georgiadis, Research Associate at the Medical Molecular Biology Unit of University College London, showed what happens: “So what we have here is heart cells which we’ve actually grown and after a few days you can actually monitor the physiological activity of the cells. In this particular case we’re trying to exploit the electrical activity that goes through heart cells then we can actually monitor this activity.”
Today, treating heart disease often means surgery. But these scientists hope that tomorrow surgery may no longer be necessary.