A graphic of what researchers hope the cyborg patch will do (via Tel Aviv University & Nature)
This is beyond extreme-wearable. Thanks to advances in technology it's now possible to mend a broken heart. No, it's not meant to be poetic. Researchers at the Tel Aviv University have created what they call a “cyborg heart patch” which combines living tissue and electronic components to replace damage parts of the heart. The patch has the ability to expand and contract like human heart tissue, yet regulates itself as a machine.
"We first ensured that the cells would contract in the patch, which explains the need for organic material," said Dr. Tal Dvir one of the creators of the patch. "But, just as importantly, we needed to verify what was happening in the patch and regulate its function. We also wanted to be able to release drugs from the patch directly onto the heart to improve its integration with the host body."
Dvir and his team created the patch by engineering thick bionic tissue suitable for transplantation. This tissue features electronics with the ability to sense tissue function and provide electrical stimulation as needed. Along with this, electroactive polymers are integrated with the electronics that'll release mediation, like growth factors or small molecules, on demand when activated. The electronic components also allow doctors to monitor their patient's condition remotely. For instance, a doctor could log into a computer and see if the implant is working as intended. If something is wrong he could release drugs to regulate inflammation or fix lack of oxygen. Dr. Dvir and his team hopes the cardiac patch will be able to regulate itself in the future.
"Imagine that a patient is just sitting at home, not feeling well," Dr. Dvir said. "His physician will be able to log onto his computer and this patient's file -- in real time. He can view data sent remotely from sensors embedded in the engineered tissue and assess exactly how his patient is doing. He can intervene to properly pace the heart and activate drugs to regenerate tissue from afar.
It sounds promising, but as with anything that relies on computers there's always fears of hacking. Researchers have taken this into consideration and are looking to further develop the patch to block foul human intervention. For now the patch is still in development and even Dr. Dvir warns that “practical realization of the technology may take some time.” This mean those suffering from cardiovascular diseases will have to continue relying on current treatment methods. The team are currently refining the cyborg heart patch. They're also looking to implement similar technology to create bionic brain and spinal cord tissues.
As long as development of the patch continues to be successful, this could prove to be a huge innovation in heart health. This cyborg patch may reduce the need for risky procedures and high risk medications. This project also shows how current technology is being used to improve the world of health.
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