Assessing Biocompatibility During Heart Regeneration Experiments

Materials Studio

biocompatability in heart regeneration
The Liotta-Cooley artificial heart was initially implanted in the late 60s. Today, scientists are working to create structure for the heart to regenerate itself. Image Source: Flickr User: Karon

Heart valves are a crucial portion of the circulatory system that malfunction in over 4 million people a year due to birth defects, age-related deteriorations and infections. Current valve replacement relies on artificial prostheses, fixed animal or cadaver-sourced tissue. Unfortunately these replacements, while life-saving, are prone to wearing down and need to be replaced, especially in children. To address this issue, researchers have recently crafted a valve that works upon implantation and regenerates into heart-like tissue, which would be ideal in both pediatric and adult patients.1 Creating innovative materials with modern lab software can catapult this research forward and help save lives.

Tissue Replacement Challenges

Research and development into heart-related procedures and technologies will be ongoing for many years to come as scientists and physicians attempt to wade through a myriad of cardiac diseases. Some illnesses are present from birth, whereas many others are the result of many years of constant use. As heart disease works on its own timeline, researchers have encountered a number of issues when inventing replacement tissue:

  • Tissue Scaffolds Are In Short Supply. Traditionally, heart valve tissue engineering has relied on scaffolds from human donors or other animals. These, much like the tissue on a whole, are in short supply.
  • Mechanical Hearts Valves Make Noise. This seems like a minor complaint, but it can be very distracting. Single heart valves are quieter that numerous valves or a full heart replacement, but patients who have had a replacement often comment about the persistent ticking noise.2  
  • Replacement Valves Need To Be Replaced Frequently. For reasons we don’t quite understand yet, there is a high burnout rate with replacement valves. This leads to many arduous surgeries for patients, which could be avoided if researchers used innovative lab software to create new, more biocompatible materials to create replacements from.
  • Implants Don’t Grow With The Patient. Pediatric cardiac patients are often subjected to numerous expensive and grueling surgeries simply because their prostheses do not grow with them. As research progresses, modern lab software can help researchers create adaptive prostheses from novel materials that grow with the patient.

To bypass many of these issues it would be ideal if physicians could promote regrowth of damaged tissue. Using innovative lab software to design a malleable, semi-permanent scaffold that could initiate regrowth without hampering growth as the topography of the heart changes with age could save lives, time and reduce repetitive surgeries. Given that researchers have been investigating using plants to model vasculature for organs and tissues, this doesn’t seem as far flung as it would have five years ago.

Recent Advancements in Cellular Scaffolding

Over the last year, we’ve discussed how tissue and organ engineering are changing, and ever-evolving scaffolding techniques have played a major role. There are a number of new and emerging techniques in tissue scaffolding:

  • Decellularized Animal Tissue. This is an older technique, but with recent advancements in stem cell therapies, it is becoming more viable.
  • Decellularized Plant Tissue. This is brand new. Researchers are using innovative lab software to develop techniques to decellularize plants to hijack their vascular systems for human organs and tissues.
  • 3D Printed Scaffolds.  Relatively recently, researchers have been looking at bioprinting scaffolds for everything from bones to ears out of a number of natural and synthetic materials.
  • Otherwise Bioengineered Scaffolds. This field is constantly evolving and on a monthly basis there are reports of emerging techniques as well as updates on refinements of others. Recent advancements in lab software are helping researchers to design new materials and refine previous ones to serve as scaffolds.

A team based out of Harvard University recently published a paper wherein they’ve developed a nanofiber fabrication technique to rapidly manufacture heart valves.3 This cotton-candy machine-like process creates a valve scaffold by spinning an extracellular matrix solution in nanofibers that wrap around valve-like structures. Much faster than any other regenerative prosthetic method, the fibres are biocompatible, hemodynamically competent and promote cell migration and repopulation. Effectively, the valve-shaped nanofiber network mimics all the mechanical and chemical properties of a heart valve.

This paper also reports successful implementation of this technique in animal models and researchers are looking to modify and test it for human use soon. Using innovative lab software can help the researchers make this final knowledge, and species leap.

BIOVIA Materials Studio is the key to rapidly advancing research in this field. With extensive computer simulations, you can save you and your lab both time and R&D funds that would otherwise be spent exploring dead ends. In this case, Materials Studio can help researchers model the atomistic interactions that can impact biocompatibility across different species to better understand the effects current and future devices can have. This type of computer modelling can help to steer your research towards a deliverable product, faster. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “Engineering heart valves for the many,” May 18, 2017, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170518083024.htm
  2. “Mechanical Heart Valve Replacement: Can You Hear It Tick?” February 26, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cAa_WeOEFU
  3. “JetValve: Rapid manufacturing of biohybrid scaffolds for biomimetic heart valve replacement,” July 2017, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142961217302685