Damaged heart tissue, as a result of a myocardial infarct, is not only a problem because it weakens overall cardiac function but also because it no longer conducts electricity well enough to effectively propagate the heart’s signals. Arrhythmias are a common result of this, and although there are drugs that can help some patients, the same drugs often can’t be prescribed post infarct.
Now, researchers at Rice University have developed biocompatible carbon nanotube fibers that can be used as electrical bridges that span across damaged heart tissue. They have already been tried in sheep and rodents with scars on their hearts, and the fibers successfully restored a great deal of the atrioventricular conduction needed for proper pacing.
The nanofibers are naturally conductive, but unlike metals they’re very flexible and can easily integrate with the human body. They’re wrapped in a polymer coating with the tips exposed, in order to link the desired areas of tissue to each other.
In the animal experiments, they were shown to be non-toxic and were compatible with pacemakers. When the fibers were removed from the rodents, the electric function of the animals’ hearts returned to a more diseased state.
“The reestablishment of cardiac conduction with carbon nanotube fibers has the potential to revolutionize therapy for cardiac electrical disturbances, one of the most common causes of death in the United States,” said Mark McCauley, who performed many of the experiments as a postdoctoral fellow at Texas Heart Institute.
The next steps in the research will involve figuring out how to better attach the electrode tips of the fibers using catheters and to test whether the fibers can withstand the rigors of being implanted onto a beating heart. Moreover, pediatric patients with growing hearts also need to be considered and whether such nanofibers can one day be used to help them as well.
Study in journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology: In Vivo Restoration of Myocardial Conduction With Carbon Nanotube Fibers
Via: Rice University