Now it turns out that Velcro is not just for shoes and watch bands. A Velcro-inspired technology that binds strips of cells together could potentially be used to make living bandages for the heart.
“Tissue-Velcro,” which is the name given to this technology by its developers, is made by growing heart cells on meshes that contain tiny holes and hooks. Once these meshes are placed in contact with each other, they snag on to each other, which allows the tissue to be built up layer by layer. Over time, the polymer used to make this mesh breaks down. After having been grown in this special mesh for just four days, single-cell layers of rat heart muscle began to contract on their own. A stack of these layers of heart muscle tissue were able to grow together to contract with the same rhythm.
This technology opens up the possibility of making patches of heart muscle to repair the damage caused by heart attacks, or to sculpt scar tissue over wounds in a more seamless way.
“Each case that a surgeon would be presented with is going to be unique,” says team member Miles Montgomery at the University of Toronto, Canada. “You could build it in situ, almost like designer tissue.” The team plans to seek regulatory approval for use in human patients soon.
“I think this technology is very cool,” says Jay Zhang of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, although he adds that clinical applications are some way off. “The real test is how it works in vivo, to repair hearts, to repair vessels, to repair valves.”
The technique could potentially be used to grow other types of complex tissues as well, such as skin or liver. “If you can prove that you can do this with notoriously difficult tissue to grow, such as cardiac tissue, then it’s paving the way,” says Montgomery.