Tel Aviv University Researchers Develop Cyborg Patch To Mend A Broken Heart

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have engineered a bionic heart patch that could dramatically change the field of cardiac research. It could also save many lives—a depressing statistic is that more than a quarter of the people on the national U.S. waiting list for a heart transplant will die before they get a chance to receive one.

That's a scary thought, considering how prominent heart disease is, and though many people die waiting for a transplant, heart transplants (and we would assume by extension heart transplant requests) are on the rise. The good news is the "cyborg heart patch" that researchers have come up with has unique capabilities that could extend a person's life.

Cyborg Heart Patch
Source: Tel Aviv University

"With this heart patch, we have integrated electronics and living tissue. It's very science fiction, but it's already here, and we expect it to move cardiac research forward in a big way," said Professor Tal Dvir, who along with PhD student Ron Feiner of ATU's Department of Biotechnology, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, came up with the idea.

"Until now, we could only engineer organic cardiac tissue, with mixed results. Now we have produced viable bionic tissue, which ensures that the heart tissue will function properly," Dr. Dvir added.

Dr. Dvir and his team built the cyborg heart patch out of thick bionic tissue that's suitable to be transplanted into a human. The engineered tissue also contains electronics capable of sensing tissue function and providing electrical stimulation. The final piece of the puzzle consists of integrated electroactive polymers. When activated, these polymers can release medication, including growth factors.

"Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well," Dr. Dvir said. "His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient's file -- in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar."

Dr. Dvir warns that even though this cyborg heart patch is promising, it's not a free pass to "bringing on cheeseburgers or quitting sports." A healthy lifestyle is still the best way to ensure heart health.