The heart, along with supplying blood to every tip of the body, gets its own oxygen and nutrition via small, thin vessels that run over its surface. A heart attack occurs when one or more of these vessels get blocked. However, surviving an episode of excruciating pain does not ensure full recovery. A new invention may, however, help achieve that like never before.

What happens after a heart attack?

Following an attack, or a myocardial infarction, the area whose blood supply has been cut off grows thinner and weaker. The body heals the dead tissue by forming scars, which can eventually lead to completely heart failure. Once failure sets in, one’s physical activity and lifestyle would be severely limited. Currently, they can be corrected by a cocktail of medications or open heart surgery, which
are also cumbersome and carry their own risks.

What is the new technology under development and how does it help?

Researchers in University of Pennsylvania have developed hydrogels that could be injected into patients after they have had a heart attack, preventing further damage and progression into heart failure. While gel technology is currently in use for other purposes, the newer one developed by Jason A. Burdick and team are based in hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring sugar molecule with appropriate side chains that allow them to form cross-linkages. This property stiffens the gel and gives it a final jelly-like consistency. Less thinning of the heart muscle also prevents leakage of blood and its accompanying complications.

This technology can stabilize the vessel, provide mechanical support and minimize formation of scar tissue, thus decreasing the risk of going into heart failure. Further, it helps get around an open heart surgery by using long catheters to insert the material.

Currently the technology is still under development, awaiting results from animal trials. Once reports turn up positive and a delivery system is optimized, the team can launch clinical trials to observe its efficiency in halting the damaging after-effects.

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