Tag: heart

A Functional, Beating Hearts Will Soon Be 3D-Printed Using Patients’ Own Cells

Inside a lab that will open in a couple of months in Chicago, a biotech startup will soon begin perfecting the process of 3D-printing human hearts that could eventually be used in transplants.

The process combines several steps that have been developed by various researchers in university labs. First, a patient’s heart will be scanned using an MRI machine to create a digital image of the heart’s shape and size.

Next, doctors will take a blood sample. Using techniques that have been developed over the last decade, the blood cells will be converted into stem cells–and then converted a second time into heart cells.

Those new heart cells will be combined with nutrients in a hydrogel to make a “bio-ink” that can be used in a specialized 3D printer.

Printing one layer at a time, with a biodegradable scaffolding to keep everything in place, the cells can be formed into the exact shape of the patient’s original heart.

The new heart will be moved to a bioreactor to strengthen it. Amazingly, new heart cells outside a body will begin to self-assemble.

When the heart is strong enough, technicians will raise the temperature to melt the scaffolding around the cells.




The new heart can then be transplanted–and because it is the exact size of a patient’s original heart, and made from the patient’s own cells, it has a greater chance of success than a traditional transplant.

In studies, other researchers have successfully transplanted stem cells in both humans and animals without the need for anti-rejection drugs.

Most people who receive heart transplants now don’t live more than a decade. Their body may reject the organ directly.

The drugs they take to suppress their immune system–in an attempt to prevent the body from rejecting the foreign organ–may also make them unable to fight off another disease, such as cancer.

The Biolife4D heart, in contrast, won’t require patients to take immunosuppressant drugs since it is an exact genetic match.

The company isn’t the only startup in the space. A startup called Prellis Biologics, for example, has another printing process that is optimized for speed, and that includes blood vessels.

A company called Organovo already makes 3D printed human tissue for drug discovery. But Biolife4D may be the only startup to use equity crowdfunding.

The company has opened up investment to the public. “We wanted to make [the investment opportunity] available to everybody, not just wealthy people on Wall Street,” Morris says.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Electronic Skin Can Display A Heartbeat On Your Hand

You’d know someone’s health just by looking at them.

Electronic skins might not only detect health troubles in the near future, but display them for the world to see.

University of Tokyo researchers have developed an e-skin that can measure vital signs like your heartbeat and display them in real time on a skin display.

The design blends a breathable nanomesh electrode and stretchable wiring with an array of micro LEDs that can output basic images bending with your body.




Others know right away if you need help — they’d just have to look at your hand (or anywhere else the sensor works) to get an idea of what’s wrong.

The sensor can pair with a smartphone and transmit its info to the cloud, too.

There have been stretchable displays before, but they typically fall apart quickly after exposure to air and the usual stretching and twisting of your skin.

The sensor itself lasts for about a week without inflammation, too, and was built using conventional circuit board manufacturing techniques that should keep the cost down.

This isn’t just a theoretical exercise. Dai Nippon Printing hopes to offer the skin within the next 3 years by making it more reliable, scaling production and improving its coverage for large surface areas.

Should all go well, it could be particularly helpful for home care patients.

Rather than having to wear a bulky device that requires close inspection, they could broadcast their health status to family members and carry on with their lives relatively unhindered.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

A Pump That Could Bring Your Heart Back To Life

This image, from a video, shows a robotic sleeve designed to encase a diseased heart and gently squeeze to help it pump blood. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital developed the experimental device in hopes of improving treatment of heart failure. (Ellen Roche/Harvard University/Science Translational Medicine via AP)

Scientists are developing a robotic sleeve that can encase a flabby diseased heart and gently squeeze to keep it pumping.

So far it’s been tested only in animals, improving blood flow in pigs. But this “soft robotic” device mimics the natural movements of a beating heart, a strategy for next-generation treatments of deadly heart failure.

The key: A team from Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital wound artificial muscles into the thin silicone sleeve, so that it alternately compresses, twists and relaxes in synchrony with the heart tissue underneath.

It’s an approach dramatically different from today’s therapies and, if it is proven in people, it might offer an alternative to heart transplants or maybe even aid in recovery.

You can customize the function of the assist device to meet the individual needs of that heart,” said Frank Pigula, a cardiac surgeon who took the idea to Harvard colleagues developing soft robotics while he was at Boston Children’s Hospital.




More than 5 million Americans, and 41 million people worldwide, suffer heart failure, a number that is growing as the population ages.

A heart left damaged by a heart attack, high blood pressure or other conditions becomes progressively weaker and unable to pump properly.

For severe cases, the only options are a transplant or battery-powered mechanical pumps that are implanted into the chest to take over the job of pumping blood.

These ventricular assist devices, or VADs, prolong life, but running blood through the machinery can leave patients at risk of blood clots, strokes and bleeding.

That shouldn’t be a risk with the robotic sleeve.

The nice thing about this is it can go on the outside of the heart, so it doesn’t have to contact blood at all,” said Harvard associate engineering professor Conor Walsh, senior author of a recently published paper on the idea.

The researchers programmed the robotic sleeve to move in the same pattern as the weakened heart muscle it surrounds while strengthening and optimizing each heartbeat.

The device can be tailored to compress different sections of the heart.

As the sleeve relaxes, it helps the damaged heart expand and refill with blood to be pumped out with the next heartbeat, said Pigula, who is now with the University of Louisville.

Researchers have previously tried “socks” and other ways to encase or compress the heart, but these efforts have met with little success.

Unlike those prior attempts, the new sleeve is “smart, it’s robotic,” said O’Connor.

They really worked on developing a device that can mimic the contraction of the weakened heart muscle and augment it so there is improved heart function without the theoretical clot risk.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

You Really Can Die Of A Broken Heart

When you think of a broken heart, you probably picture something out of a romantic movie or a cartoon heart, cracked like a fragile piece of china.

Indeed, so-called “broken heart syndrome” has a certified place in popular culture, and has been eloquently used in films such as The Notebook.

But while we certainly feel “heartbreak” during periods of emotional upheaval, can you actually die of a broken heart?

The answer is never going to be simple, so first we should start with a bit of science.

In the last two decades, atrial fibrillation (AF), a form of irregular heartbeat, has become one of the most important public health problems and a significant cause of increasing healthcare costs in western countries.




Individuals with AF have a five-fold and two-fold increased risk of stroke and death, respectively. It is estimated that there will be 14-17m AF patients in Europe by 2030; with 120,000–215,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

In the United States, AF prevalence is projected to increase from 5.2m in 2010 to 12.1m cases in 2030.

The exact cause of AF is still unresolved and is likely to involve multiple components such as genetic and environmental factors.

Atrial fibrillation is a progressive condition, whereby the arrhythmia begins in a “sudden onset” form, progressing through “persistent” to so-called “permanent” AF.

These steps can take many years to develop, but an essential element in this progression are the so-called “triggers”, which can be anything from illness and fatigue, to alcohol, caffeine and emotional stress.

Bereavement and ‘Broken Hearts’

But what does this have to do with a broken heart? Well, it appears that the two are linked.

In a recent article published in the online journal Open Heart, a Danish research team based at Aarhus University reported findings showing that the death of a partner is linked to heightened risk of developing AF for up to a year after the bereavement.

This retrospective study examined hospital records of 88,612 people in Denmark (19.72% of whom had lost a partner) and identified persons that were diagnosed with AF for the first time between 1995 and 2014.

For comparison, the team also randomly selected a control group (without AF) of 886,120 people (19.07% of whom had lost a partner) which was matched with the AF group on age and gender.

Other factors that were controlled included civil status and education level, and whether the subjects had cardiovascular disease, diabetes or were taking medication for cardiovascular disease.

The study revealed that individuals whose cohabiting partner or spouse had died had an increased risk of getting AF within 30 days of the bereavement – a risk estimated to be 41% higher than average.

The origins of a broken heart

Scientific findings accumulated over the past 25 years seem to support the notion that a real-life broken heart can lead to subsequent heart problems.

Broken heart syndrome”, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, was first described in 1990 in Japan and has recently been globally recognised as a real medical condition.

It should be noted here that without echocardiography, blood markers and other evidence, we can’t say for sure whether those in the published Danish cohort had “broken heart syndrome” or not.

Nevertheless, roughly in keeping with the condition described in the Danish study, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy starts abruptly and unpredictably (even in healthy individuals).

Symptoms include chest pains, often with shortness of breath, and an abnormal electrocardiogram, which resembles a heart attack but is notable for the absence of blocked heart blood vessels.

Indeed, Takotsubo syndrome accounts for about 2-5% of heart attack cases seen by doctors, with a higher predilection for women over 50 years of age (only 10% in men).

The significance of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is reflected to the fact that there is an international registry for this disorder.

What is interesting is that Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is usually triggered by an emotionally or physically stressful event such as bereavement, major surgery or being involved in a disaster such as an earthquake.

The exact mechanisms leading to Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are unknown but some evidence suggests excessive release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, acts as a trigger during the initial onset which causes the weakening of the heart muscle.

In fact, the strong emotion doesn’t have to be negative “happy heart syndrome” is initiated by happy events, such as the birth of grandchildren or a birthday, and accounts for 1.1% of broken heart syndrome cases.

The long-term affects of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are unclear, but it does appear to be temporary and reversible. Nevertheless, it is certain that we can have our hearts broken – and that, for some, this can be very dangerous indeed.

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Pass it on: Popular Science