One of the biggest challenges to the recovery of someone who has experienced a major physical trauma such as a heart attack is the growth of scar tissue.
As scar tissue builds up in the heart, it can limit the organ’s functions, which is obviously a problem for recovery.
However, researchers from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre have revealed a new biomaterial that actually ‘grows’ healthy tissue – not only for the heart, but also for people with extensive nerve damage.
In a paper published to Advanced Materials, the team said its biomaterial regenerating tissue responds to electrical stimuli and also eliminates infection.
The new material developed by the multidisciplinary research team is composed of the protein collagen, abundant in the human body, and the atom-thick ‘wonder material’ graphene.
The resulting merger creates an electroconductive ‘biohybrid’, combining the beneficial properties of both materials and creating a material that is mechanically stronger, with increased electrical conductivity.
This biohybrid material has been shown to enhance cell growth and, when electrical stimulation is applied, directs cardiac cells to respond and align in the direction of the electrical impulse.
Could repair spinal cord
It is able to prevent infection in the affected area because the surface roughness of the material – thanks to graphene – results in bacterial walls being burst, simultaneously allowing the heart cells to multiply and grow.
For those with extensive nerve damage, current repairs are limited to a region only 2cm across, but this new biomaterial could be used across an entire affected area as it may be possible to transmit electrical signals across damaged tissue.
Speaking of the breakthrough, Prof Fergal O’Brien, deputy director and lead investigator on the project, said: “We are very excited by the potential of this material for cardiac applications, but the capacity of the material to deliver physiological electrical stimuli while limiting infection suggests it might have potential in a number of other indications, such as repairing damaged peripheral nerves or perhaps even spinal cord.
“The technology also has potential applications where external devices such as biosensors and devices might interface with the body.”
The study was led by AMBER researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in partnership with Trinity College Dublin and Eberhard Karls University in Germany.