Simulated human heart aims to screen drugs for adverse effects

Dr. Helen Maddock from the Centre for Applied Biological and Exercise Sciences at Coventry University--Courtesy of Coventry University

An in vitro technique using samples of beating heart tissue may be able to test the effects of drugs on the heart without unnecessary testing on humans or animals, according to new research.

Adverse drug effects on the cardiovascular system contribute to many drug failures in the clinic, but these heart-related side effects can often only be detected once a drug is being tested in patients in trials.

But Dr. Helen Maddock at the U.K.'s Coventry University has created a drug-testing technique using a specimen of human heart tissue attached to a tiny rig. This simulated cardiovascular system--called a work-loop assay--mimics the function of the cardiac muscle by allowing the muscle to be lengthened and shortened while being stimulated by an electrical impulse.

Scientists can add drugs to the work-loop assay to test whether they have an adverse effect on the force of contraction of the muscle. Up until now, such tests could only be carried out on living animals.

Maddock believes the assay provides the most realistic way to test the cardiovascular effects of drugs without using humans.

"It has the potential to shave years off the development of successful drugs for a range of treatments," Maddock said in a statement.

Maddock, who has formed a spinoff called InoCardia, is already in talks with a company to further develop the technology.

- read the press release

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