Hearts Patched Image
Hearts with the computer optimized patch (second column from the left) remodeled less than those with no patch at all (far left column) and hearts patched with suboptimal properties (right columns). (Credit: Brown University)

Guided by computer simulations, an international team of researchers has developed an adhesive patch that can provide support for damaged heart tissue, potentially reducing the stretching of heart muscle that’s common after a heart attack.

The patch, made from a water-based hydrogel material, was developed using computer simulations of heart function in order to fine tune the material’s mechanical properties. A study in rats showed that the patch was effective in preventing left ventricle remodeling — a stretching of the heart muscle that’s common after a heart attack and can reduce the function of the heart’s main pumping chamber. The research also showed that the computer-optimized patch outperformed patches whose mechanical properties had been selected on an ad hoc basis.

To develop those principles, the researchers developed a computer model of a beating heart, which captured the mechanical dynamics of both the heart itself and the patch when fixed to the heart’s exterior. The team developed a hydrogel material made from food-sourced starch that could match the properties from the model. The key to the material is that it’s viscoelastic, meaning it combines fluid and solid properties. It has fluid properties up to a certain amount of stress, at which point it solidifies and becomes stiffer.

Biochemical markers showed that the patch reduced cell death, scar tissue accumulation and oxidative stress in tissue damaged by heart attack.