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Ohio State Cardiac Tissue Engineering Breakthrough

Yu Wu, student, and assistant professor Liang Guo.For the first time, research at The Ohio State University is helping to unveil the essential importance of cardiac tissue engineering over simple stem cell therapy, as a way to someday heal cardiac tissues damaged after heart attacks.

The IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering recently published research, authored by Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Liang Guo and PhD student Yu Wu, titled "Enhancement of Intercellular Electrical Synchronization by Conductive Materials in Cardiac Tissue Engineering."

The process of cardiac tissue engineering seeks to reestablish the structure and function of injured myocardium, in the prevention and reversal of heart failure. By creating models or three-dimensional environments for cardiac regeneration, tissues and electromechanical cell functions can feasibly be restored. The research could significantly help patients outlive the failure of their organs through the engineering of functional biological grafts. Ideally, the work can reestablish normal tissue structure and functions.

Wu and Guo theoretically confirmed the positive role of conductive scaffolds and nanostructures in aiding electrical synchronization of cardiac cells and further unveiled how the performance mainly depends upon the cell-device interface.

"This is a highly important paper," IEEE editors wrote during the paper review process. "In particular, the authors identified the adhesion strength of the cells to the conductive material as the primary factor for functional enhancement, while finding that the material’s conductivity and surface roughness are less important. This work could lead to new discoveries in bioelectronics, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine."

“Many research reports find electrically conductive scaffolds can improve cardiomyocyte functions and lead to more viable engineered cardiac tissue grafts,” Guo said, “but the real mechanism has not been elucidated so far, making rational designs of electroactive scaffolds impossible, despite the immense resources and efforts being spent on developing new electroactive scaffolds.”

According to their research, conducting materials can enhance the intercellular electrical synchronisation in electrogenetic cells, but the real mechanism is much more complicated than what people initially thought.

Dr. Mahmood Khan, assistant professor in the Ohio State Department of Emergency Medicine and expert on cardiac tissue engineering, helped put the significance of this research into perspective.

Cardiovascular disease, leading to heart attacks, is one of the major causes of death and economic burden in the United States, he said. The condition ultimately destroys the heart muscle cells because of lack of oxygen and nutrients. 

“Unlike other tissues in the human body, the heart cells have very limited capacity to regenerate, which ultimately leads to heart failure, resulting in decreased heart function and cardiac arrhythmiasm,” Khan said. 

While stem cell therapy is a rapidly growing therapeutic strategy to replace the damaged and lost cells, he said, cardiac tissue engineering is gaining importance. Specifically, he said, through the development of biomimetic scaffolds to simulate physiological cues for actively building the essential ultrastructure and function of the cardiac tissue and effectively integrating the grafts to the host myocardial tissue. Recapitulation of the electro-conductive microenvironment of the native heart is one major goal in the design of these biomimetic scaffolds.

Khan said Guo and Wu help provide a theoretical basis for the rational design of the electroactive scaffolds needed to enhance cardiac tissue engineering. 

“If tested in the biological model,” he said, “(their research) will have a significant impact on society for treating patients with cardiac dysfunction, improving quality of life and lessening the healthcare economic burden.”