Cross-linking hydrogel could ward off heart failure after heart attack

Soft hydrogel (left) vs. a new hydrogel (right) that can form crosslinks after injection into the heart, making the material stiffer and longer-lasting.--Courtesy of the American Chemical Society

While some laboratories are working on minimally invasive hydrogel treatments for heart failure, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania are going a step further, developing a hydrogel with supportive properties that will specifically benefit heart failure patients.

With heart attacks, the damage doesn’t subside when the episode is over. The heart wall can grow thinner and weaker, the organ becomes enlarged and scar tissue forms, potentially leading to heart failure. UPenn’s Jason Burdick and his team are working on a hydrogel that has shown the ability to fortify weak areas and ward off heart failure.

Two other hydrogels, delivered via catheter, thus eliminating the need for open-heart surgery, are currently in clinical trials. Burdick is using the same minimally invasive strategy, but he is designing a hydrogel that forms crosslinks between the polymer chains after it is injected, according to a statement. The injected gel is stiffer and longer-lasting that gels without the crosslinks, such as the gels currently in trials.


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The researchers attached adamantane and cyclodextrin groups to hyaluronic acid molecules--a naturally occurring sugar in the body--to make it flow through catheters. They also added thiol and methacrylate groups that allowed the polymers to cross-link after injection, stiffening the gel, according to the statement.

Once they refine the hydrogel’s formulation and delivery, the team hopes to partner with a catheter maker to commercialize the product. They presented the research at the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting and exposition on Monday.

"Heart failure is a huge problem, and few therapies are available for these patients," Burdick said in the statement. Current treatments for heart failure include lifestyle changes, medication, implants or transplants, but these have seen limited success. A fortifying hydrogel would represent another option for the roughly 735,000 people in the U.S. who have heart attacks each year. According to the NIH, about 5.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from heart failure, which is characterized by the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to support the body.

- here's the statement

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