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A Step Closer to the Clinic For Stem Cell “Heart Patch”


A plaster-like patch that can help the heart heal on its own – it’s not the stuff of science fiction but a treatment that’s being tested today by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Not only that, their revolutionary study marks the last big hurdle before progressing to human trials.

A heart patch. No, it’s not something you give your teenage daughter after a difficult break up with her boyfriend. Although that would be handy, this heart patch has bigger objectives in its sight – namely treating the hundreds of thousands of patients who suffer from cardiovascular disease.

Applying a patch to address one of the world’s biggest killers would be a revolution in regenerative medicine, explains Timothy J. Kamp, cardiologist and co-director of the UW-Madison Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center. A patch would be a far cry from current treatments for cardiovascular disease which include unreliable medications and invasive surgery.

Patching a damaged heart

“The excitement here is we’re moving closer to patient applications… We’re at a stage when we need to see how these cells do in a large animal heart attack model. We’ll be making patches of heart muscle that can be applied to these injured areas.” –Timothy J. Kamp, professor in the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH).

The heart patches Kamp and his team are proposing are essentially engineered tissue made up of the various types of cells that create heart muscle. The researchers plan to implant them into the heart to replace damaged or diseased tissue and ultimately restore the functions of healthy, beating heart muscle.

The science of the heart patch is grounded in theory, yet the team still need to develop the right mix of cells to support the three-dimensional patches. This process involves coaxing stem cells into the three types of heart cells: fibroblasts, the cells that provide the structural framework of tissue, cardiomyocytes, the cells responsible for muscle contraction, and endothelial cells, the cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels.

Another obstacle the researchers need to overcome is the body’s immune response to foreign cells. Kamp states, “The body’s immune response is a big part of this”, highlighting the problems that often arise when transplanting donor cells into a new host. These issues are negated if the treatments are based on a patient’s own stem cells.

Over the course of the trial, the UW-Madison team will test the heart patch in various animal models including mice and pigs. As a pig’s heart is of close approximation to the human heart, by the end of the period the researchers will have enough evidence to warrant testing in human patients, should the patch prove effective.

“The proposed studies in animal models are essential to develop this novel therapy,” Kamp said, “but the gold standard, of course, is a human patient.” –Timothy J. Kamp